Amtrak Accidents and Customer Service
Also discussion of Downtown Dining Week, some development news, and new tv commercials from MCTS.
As it should, the sales pitch for the Amtrak Hiawatha Service between Chicago and Milwaukee centers around convenience. That said, it’s embarrassing how poorly passengers are treated in the event of an accident. Accidents will happen, but the response to them is what matters.
On June 8th, a northbound Hiawatha struck a woman near Caledonia. Passengers on the train were forced to wait for three hours before being picked up on a bus and taken to their destinations. This is unacceptable, especially given that Caledonia is under 20 miles from the train’s final stop at the Milwaukee Intermodal Station.
Amtrak should contract with local transit agencies or private operators to have buses ready for passenger transport that can arrive within the hour. Such a backup service provision won’t work for cross-country routes like the Empire Builder, but for corridor service like the Hiawatha it is well suited. The Hiawatha Service route takes only an hour and a half to traverse.
Business relationships between bus operators and Amtrak already exist, and can be used for as a basis for building the backup system. Amtrak contracts with private operators already for its Thruway Motorcoach service, which provides bus connections to cities not served by their existing routes. It is certainly a money losing proposition for Amtrak to have to pay for multiple buses to pick up stranded passengers, but a likely greater money losing proposition is to lose customers for life because of awful experiences trapped on a train.
If we really want Amtrak to gain market share and help foster more connections between Milwaukee and Chicago, it needs to provide a high quality of service. Leaving passengers stranded is something Amtrak should leave to the airlines.
In a previous article I discussed the need for pricing innovation on the Hiawatha.
Downtown Dining Week and the Perception of Milwaukee
The latest annual installment of Milwaukee Downtown’s extremely popular Downtown Dining Week has come and gone, but hopefully has left a lasting impression that downtown is a fun, attractive, and safe place to visit.
The suburban crowd seems to love the week of discount lunches and dinners though. I’ve heard attendance breakdowns peg the suburban attendance share as high as 70%.
Assuming most of the attendees have a good meal (and at the price of $10 for lunch and $20 for dinner, it’s hard to go wrong), how do the restaurants and Milwaukee Downtown convert them into more regular event attendees? When I head to a restaurant for the downtown dining week special, I rarely get hit up to fill out the Milwaukee Downtown survey card, nor anything for the restaurant itself. If I’m a participating restaurant, I would be collecting as many email or snail mail addresses as possible to open up marketing channels to encourage future visits.
The event draws a phenomenal number of people to downtown, and is a tremendous success. Hopefully the restaurants are able to create long-term customers and draw people to downtown year-round.
MCTS’s New TV Commercials
The Milwaukee County Transit System rolled out a series of new television commercials. The commercials feature all sides of the transit system from drivers and passengers to MCTS Managing Director Lloyd Grant, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, UWM Chancellor Mike Lovell, and City of Milwaukee Police Department Chief Edward Flynn. The campaign features the slogan “Vital to the community. Vital to you. Ride.”
No surprise, but Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke doesn’t make an appearance after spending the last year using the system as a political football.
You can watch all of the commercials online, or view my favorite below.
Bartolotta’s Buys Park East Building
The former Palomar project sales center will become the headquarters for one of Milwaukee’s premier restaurant groups. The Bartolotta Restaurants will purchase the building located at 520 W. McKinley Ave just across from the Park East corridor.
I’m happy to see The Bartolotta Restaurants coming downtown. It’s great that instead of becoming largely anonymous within an office tower, they will put an empty building into an active use. I do struggle to believe that they intend to stay in that location long-term though. As developments begin to fill the Park East, it seems reasonable that a one-story building (next to another one-story warehouse) might be demolished to make way for a bigger development. That is exactly what is happening at the current Bartolotta headquarters in Wauwatosa.
Is Washington Square office tower dead?
The previously announced Washington Square office tower appears to have lost any moment it may have had. The rest of the media had articles about a proposed building near the lakefront (833 E. Michigan St) late last week with the anchor tenant announced as law firm Godfrey & Kahn. The firm is currently located in the former M&I Bank headquarters on the northeast corner of Water and Mason streets.
Godfrey & Kahn was previously announced to have signed a letter of intent for the Washington Square tower. Baker Tilly also had signed a letter of intent, but has since opted to move into the US Bank Center. Another potential tenant, law firm Von Briesen & Roper S.C., ended up renewing its lease at the 411 Building.
All of this is of course subject to change, as we have seen letters of intent aren’t guarantees that anything will get built. The competing proposals are further complicated by the likely redevelopment of the Downtown Transit Center, which could block some corner office lake views.
Both Washington Square and 833 E. Michigan St are to developed in part by Irgens Development Partners.
No TIGER Grants for the Milwaukee Streetcar
It is also perfectly reasonable that if the federal government is awarding infrastructure grants they would expect them to be spent on infrastructure projects, not tied up politics. Milwaukee’s case is certainly hurt when the state returns $800+ million targeted for the Hiawatha extension to Madison and cities like Atlanta, Cincinnati, Tuscon, New Orleans and Salt Lake City are receiving TIGER grants and building streetcar systems, while Milwaukee’s system waffles in front of the Public Service Commission.
For more on TIGER grants see the frequently asked questions page.
Chicago Bulls moving practice center to Chicago, Milwaukee Bucks should move practice center with new arena
The Chicago Bulls are moving their practice center from suburban Deerfield into downtown Chicago thanks to a pitch made by new Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. This will certainly give the team more visibility (although I’m not sure they need it as much as other teams), and likely result in Chicago getting another attractive street-level building that makes the city more attractive and pedestrian friendly. Chicago has added a number of non-retail first-floor uses over the past few years with multiple television stations now operating from the street level.
If the Milwaukee Bucks are to get a new arena with city support, it seems almost too logical that an expectation be that they relocate their practice facility from its current home in St. Francis at the Cousins Center to downtown Milwaukee. It sure wouldn’t hurt to have a building that looked along the lines of the Al Maguire Center on the edge of downtown. Plus, it might help to encourage a few more players to live downtown. Brandon Jennings moved to St. Francis when he came to Milwaukee (although he’s now a resident of the Historic Third Ward) partially because of its proximity to the Cousins Center.