Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

MSOE Renames Soccer Field

Kovac wonders why MSOE would name it after its current president. And why an engineering school couldn't dig a deep enough hole for its soccer field.

By - Jun 17th, 2014 02:55 pm

The Milwaukee School of Engineering has taken the unusual step of naming their new soccer field after current school president Dr. Hermann Viets. The signage for Viets Field requires a change to the zoning for the property, so the university had to come before the city’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee Tuesday morning.

Pressed by Ald. Nik Kovac on the peculiarity of naming it after an active school official, those representing the university noted it was at the behest of the donors on the project, Robert and Patricia Kern and that if Viets had his way the field would be named after the Kerns.

Viets and the Kerns have had a long relationship that has profoundly changed the university. The Kerns gave the largest gift to build the new athletic and wellness facility that bears their name, the Kern Center. The facility, which opened in 2004, replaced a dingy basement athletic facility that had been used for years.

The Kerns also paid down the remaining debt on the Kern Center some eight years ago (which was a sight to behold: I was the MSOE student government Vice President at the time, sitting across the table from Robert Kern as he presented a personal check for millions to President Viets). Many people have told me stories about the Kerns’ generosity and how they wrote countless checks to various employees when they sold Generac, the company Robert founded. They’ve made a number of large donations to the university, and have given over $100 million to Mayo Clinic. They’ve been nothing but generous, so if they want to name the field after Viets, I guess they’re entitled to insist.

The truly humble thing for Viets to do at this point would be to honor the Kerns wishes, but to hold off doing so until he retires. Leave the signage off the field until he retires. Installing it can be the first act of the next president, who will be only the fifth in the university’s 110+ year history. Viets has been president of the university since 1991 and resides on-campus in the Humphrey House with his wife Pam.

Not The First Change

The signage isn’t the first change to the athletic field and parking complex. What was originally proposed was a soccer field that was level with the ground on the corner of N. Broadway and E. Knapp St. A field that was visible from at least a block south on Broadway.

The end result is a field that isn’t visible from any of the corners, at least without a Hummer, as Ald. Kovac pointed out. Kovac expressed his displeasure that “an engineering school couldn’t dig a deep enough hole.” Also chiming in with criticism was Ald. Willie Wade. My colleague Dave Reid has offered a negative take on the project since its initial proposal. It’s unfortunate that the funds weren’t forthcoming to finish the facility as originally proposed.

Photo Gallery

Browse the photo gallery of the project start to finish.

Signage Renderings

9 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: MSOE Renames Soccer Field”

  1. Tyrell Track Master says:

    Nothing should be named after anyone until after they’re dead. That’s the best solution for the ego.

  2. Andy says:

    Might be best solution for the ego, but it happens in academics all the time. All sorts of theorems and other work is named after the person all the time. Dead or alive!

  3. Dan Pfeifer says:

    Man, you guys have been really against this project from the start. It’s over — it’s built, it’s there and it’s going to be there for a long time. Let it go.

    So they’re naming it after the sitting president. Good for them. Lots of things were named after Les Paul in Waukesha before he died, and we could probably find a number of other examples out there, too. In an era when we need engineers, MSOE has raised its profile and grown to something impressive under Vietz. Seems to me like he’s worthy of an honor while he’s still alive, yet likely in the twilight of his career. It’s not like they’re naming it after Jeffrey Dahmer.

    Also, it’s not like it’s the new Silk Downtown, either. They could have just build a parking structure — a boring, ugly, big ol’ parking structure, not all that much different than the one being torn down across from the State Office Building on Wells right now. But instead, they chose to make innovative use of the space and make it both a little more functional and very unique. Heck, I’d argue it’s even better than a “green” roof since it’s routinely used by people. Seems resourceful & innovative to me, something we keep saying we want to see more of in this city.

    So it’s not flush with the street. Big whoop. Personally, I think that makes it cooler. Soccer on a platform, scenically overlooking the city. Cool to see both from the pitch and from around the area as soccer balls fly through the air atop a rooftop. Seems like a neat thing to have.

    Milwaukeeans, sadly, seem to be inexorably linked to their cars, so until we change people’s minds about transit, we need a place to put those cars. This not only works, but does so with style and function.

    MSOE is a great school that should have good athletic facilities and this one is probably the only one of it’s kind in the world, and for a D3 school no less (I think some D1 teams would love to have a facility like this).

    Seems like nothing but a great thing to me. Why are we so hard on it and why are we having such a difficult time seeing this from both MSOE’s (“It’s a great thing for our campus”) and Milwaukee’s (“It’s great to have something so innovative here”) perspective?

  4. Dave Reid says:

    @Dan The concept of an athletic field on top of a building is good (but to be clear not original). The design is where this fails. It actually could have been great, but sadly the building is not even as “good” (which wasn’t very) as originally promised.

  5. Chris says:

    The soccer field on the roof is certainly interesting, but it’s not innovative. This has been done before, and done much better. In the end, the design failed. And this was obvious from the start… Milwaukee is now stuck with four more dead city blocks: the field is invisible from nearly all vantage points, the park is an afterthought, the under-sized retail space will sit vacant for years.

    This could have been an interesting project had MSOE had the vision to hire a superior design team. While it’s time to move on from this one, a project like this should highlight a glaring hole in the engineer’s training: a profound lack of understanding of how good design equates to vital/vibrant urbanism.

  6. Michael says:

    Why does Kovac care what they name the field? There is a difference between trying to promote a well designed city and just meddling because you can.

  7. @Michael – Not sure he does care about the name. He just asked because he said it was unusual, MSOE representatives agreed it was.

    He voted for the design change for the new signage, as did the rest of the committee.

  8. Nicholas La Joie says:

    The parking structure, as it was built, is a monstrosity and doesn’t belong in the heart of the CBD. My only hope is that it could perhaps eventually be given a make-over. I could see some clever MSOE engineers conceiving a structure to wrap around its perimeter and above the field, so that it turned from being a parking lot to an actual soccer stadium (perhaps for a Milwaukee MLS team?) instead of just an ugly building with a grass roof.

  9. Dan Pfeifer says:

    Even if the concept isn’t original, it’s still a good use.

    And not every building can be the Calatrava. You need some functional buildings in a city, particularly one as car-dependent as Milwaukee is. Furthermore, they did what they could to make what could have been just another parking structure as dressed up as a parking structure can be, with brick and glass. No, it’s not the prettiest thing in the world, but knowing it has use, I don’t think it’s ugly per se. Being the counterpart of beauty, it should come as no surprise that ugly is in the eye of the beholder, not to mention that if there are any two types of facility that should put function over form, they’re parking garages and athletic facilities, particularly at an engineering school, where function is kind of their business.

    Also, while no, attendance will never be high, the higher field does allow for MSOE to charge a little admission to help cover some costs as you now can’t watch the game from the street, and also keeps kids from trying to climb a fence and get on the field and play. What you see as an issue, I see as a functional, revenue-generating solution.

    It’s not like this was precious land squandered. There’s still plenty of room in the Park East for more fanciful things. As such, I feel like a lot of this is just taking pot shots at a place, MSOE, that is only trying to get bigger and better and not really doing it at anyone’s expense but their own.

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