Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Finally, a New Park East Plan

Ten years later, the city and county are finally on the same page. Is development in the area ready to "explode"?

By - Jun 10th, 2014 12:14 pm
County Executive Chris Abele

County Executive Chris Abele

Ten years after the removal of the Park East freeway stub, a marketing plan and strategy was unveiled today for the largely empty stretch of land on the north side of downtown. The new plan streamlines the approval process for projects and creates a single location for all land information in the corridor. The effort comes as a culmination of the work by a task force led by James T. Barry III, President of Cassidy Turley Barry. The task force received heavy praise at the press conference from Mayor Tom Barrett and County Executive Chris Abele.

During Abele’s remarks, he noted several sensible features of the new plan. Beyond creating a single website containing all relevant Park East information, a rolling request-for-proposal (RFP) will be introduced which will make the land available for purchase. Development proposals will be reviewed by a five person panel that includes real estate professionals as well as city and county representatives. In addition, Abele announced that a new process would speed approvals through city and county simultaneously. The net result, Abele promised, would be a faster, streamlined process.

Barrett praised the work of what he called “the A team” on the effort. Noting that Commission of City Development Rocky Marcoux had led the effort on the city’s end, Barrett praised all involved in the project, including members of the state’s Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. The mayor was bullish on the future of the Park East, declaring: “We think this area is ready to explode.”

Why it took ten years for this plan to come together is a head scratcher. You could posit a number of reasons for the delay. Over-optimism in the pre-recession housing market. The fact that under then-County Executive Scott Walker, the economic development director position sat empty for years. The impact of the recession, which virtually halted any real estate development. The transition time from when Chris Abele was elected. The transition from county economic development director Brian Taffora to Teig Whaley-Smith. The failed pursuit of Kohl’s. Holding the land as a placeholder for a new arena. Differing views on development by county and city officials of the past, whereas Barrett and Abele seem to be on the same page. The list goes on, but thankfully a reasonable plan has at long last been created with a unified city-county approach.

Park East Projects

A number of projects are underway or already have been completed in the corridor. Associated Bank recently broke ground on a new branch on N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., in addition to a new pocket park. A number of projects have been completed just west of the corridor in The Brewery, the re-branded former Pabst brewery. The Moderne was completed on the corner of E. Juneau Ave. and N. Old World Third St. and is now the tallest building west of the Milwaukee River in Wisconsin. Barlotta’s relocated their headquarters to the former sales center for the aborted Palomar hotel and condominium project. The Aloft hotel was completed on the east side of N. Old World Third St. in the corridor.

On the east side of the river, the Mandel Group is about to break ground on the third phase of The North End. The Flatiron Condominiums were completed. The Avenir is under construction on the eastern edge of the Park East. The Milwaukee School of Engineering built a parking garage and athletic complex as well as the Kern Center along Broadway. The city’s housing authority redeveloped a senior living facility into a mixed-use building on E. Ogden Ave. In addition, Opus Group is negotiating to purchase County-owned land to develop a mixed-use building.

A Few Oddities

  • During his remarks, Barry announced that “today we rebrand the Park East,” but that appears to be more in strategy than in marketing, as all the materials still call it the Park East.
  • A few things went unmentioned that will have a large impact on the success of this project. Most notably, the potential Bradley Center replacement (new arena) was not mentioned. Long rumored to go on Park East land between N. Old World Third St. and N. 6th St., that land is now for sale as part of a rolling RFP process introduced today. If you’re a betting man, the best odds for a location for the new arena now switch to the land north of the Bradley Center, south of E. Juneau Ave. Also not discussed were the compliance issues with the existing Park East Redevelopment Compact. That compact requires a prevailing wage to be paid to all construction workers, something that developers have offered up as a reason it’s tough to do development in the corridor.
  • A number of elected officials were on hand today in addition to Barrett and Abele, including Alderman Nik Kovac, Supervisors Deana Alexander, Steve Taylor, and Theodore Lipscomb, Sr. Curiously absent were the elected officials who actually represent the land discussed. Alderman Bob Bauman wasn’t at the press conference, nor was Alderwoman Milele Coggs (although she has an excuse, there was an ongoing Licenses Committee meeting for which she is the vice-chair). County Supervisors David Bowen and Willie Johnson, Jr. who represent the corridor and the area around it also were not present.
  • In early 2009, my colleague Dave Reid called for three things to happen to move Park East development forward. He noted that the county needed to offer up smaller lots, city and county needed to cooperate and the county needed to provide economic development staffing or let the city’s Department of City Development take over. It took five more years, but it appears others came to the same conclusion. Check out the new website to learn more.

Park East Photo Gallery

5 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Finally, a New Park East Plan”

  1. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Great, where have they been the last 40 years?

  2. wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    The economic development abiltiy of the County exec is almsot nil. It is all city.

  3. Tom Bamberger says:

    It appears to be a break in the political logjam. Now what?

    Where is the plan? What about the zoning? What about public spaces?

    This is not what is commonly called a plan in urban design circles.

  4. David says:

    I agree. I don’t believe that there is a plan. I think the arena is the big variable. And that’s too bad because I think it would be a huge mistake to build the arena in the Park East. It is however the path of least resistance and that’s what we do in this town. It should be a dense, wakable, mixed use neighborhood. Not a giant arena surrounded with parking. The arena should be on the west side of downtown near the hotels and convention center.

  5. Dave Reid says:

    @Tom The plan you are referring to came out under Norquist and Park (some changes have been made). Not a terribly good one in my mind either, as they completely failed on the roads (talk about not pedestrian friendly!), why it has height limits I’ll never know, and well so on. Further, a huge part of what it also lacked is what this fixes. A plan to actually work with the county (the property owner) to make it happen.

    And right on the website zoning, setbacks… all sorts of good stuff.

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