Hayley Keith

Will Milwaukee Art Museum Buy O’Donnell Park?

Museum director Dan Keegan meets with county parks committee, but puts off decision.

By - Jun 18th, 2015 12:42 pm
O'Donnell Parking Garage

O’Donnell Parking Garage

The Milwaukee Art Museum is looking into the purchase or lease of O’Donnell Park on E. Michigan Street. Dan Keegan, Director of the Milwaukee Art Museum and Milwaukee County Corporation Counsel Paul Bargren appeared before the county’s Parks, Energy and Environment Committee Tuesday morning to discuss the matter. The purpose of this meeting was to inform the committee of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s progress in evaluating the structure for long-term usage. Keegan said the Museum is “looking at [the O’Donnell parking structure] as a long-term solution to parking at the lakefront…. we’re asking the question what does it look like to preserve this public parking asset for the next 35 or 50 years.”

“We have finished the engineering studies of the buildings,” Keegan added, “along with a very thorough analysis of visual inspections.” The museum and Bargren completed their own physical inspection of the property and Keegan believes the “next step is to engage a national parking consultant to help analyze our data…to see if this can be sustainable for the long-term.” Keegan noted the need for a national parking consultant, saying “we are not parking experts.” Keegan concluded that the museum and its associates will determine if a long-term deal is possible and will have a decision as to whether they will move forward with their plans by July.

Committee members raised some concerns and questions. Supervisor Jason Haas notes that O’Donnell Park “is a 9.3 acres site” and asked whether the museum and its collaborators have thought about the other public space besides the parking lot included in the total site.

“This opportunity has three parts. It is a parking structure…an important site for a museum…and thirdly we understand that it is a park,” Keegan responded. “Any offer to be made by the art museum will by necessity have take into account those three important critical factors and any proposal made will address all three of those concerns.”

Back on April 15, Kenneth Krei, president of the Art Museum board of directors, sent county board members a letter asking for 90 days to review O’Donnell Park, and decide whether it has an interest in taking it over, as the Business Journal reported. Krie’s letter said the museum’s priority was to not only preserve the parking structure, but accommodate the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum and preserve the park land atop the O’Donnell structure.

No price tag for the proposed sale or lease has been been discussed to date. Northwestern Mutual had offered to buy the structure for $14 million, but the county board voted against the deal. The art museum, however, currently faces financial challenges related to the addition it is building to create a more dramatic lakeside entrance: its cost has escalated from $25 million to $31.3 million. Museum officials have said they’ve raised in excess of $20 million in gifts and pledges, but have also taken out a $10 million loan for the project.

The Parks Committee and the Milwaukee Art Museum will meet again at the July meeting to further discuss and perhaps finalize the issue.

O’Donnell Park

Categories: Politics, Real Estate

One thought on “Will Milwaukee Art Museum Buy O’Donnell Park?”

  1. Virginia Small says:

    MAM is saying it wants to “preserve” the park and all its assets–for all of us. That’s the purpose of parks everywhere in America. It’s not about “buying” a park and redeveloping it for private profit.

    Recent research revealed that O’Donnell Park and MAM (bridge & Calatrava) jointly are the #1 destination in downtown for tourists. Of course that makes sense, but many officials have tried to pretend otherwise. Milwaukee leaders want to draw more tourists and keep them happily engaged when they get here, I hope folks will get behind a plan to preserve and enhance this civic treasure. We should not just put it all on MAM to make sure our town plaza and access to this world-class museum are protected.

    If we want to be more like Paris, we need to value both our parks and our museums. Great cities are known for having many great public spaces.

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