Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Mini Version of the High Line?

New Third Ward park inspired by New York also honors early Milwaukee history.

By - Jun 27th, 2017 03:15 pm
Trestle Park rendering. Rendering by HGA Architects.

Trestle Park rendering. Rendering by HGA Architects.

There are big plans for a little space in the Historic Third Ward. In completing the Milwaukee RiverWalk the city and Mandel Group are collaborating on a small park at 501 E. Erie St. Known as Trestle Park, the park will merge the trestle structure at the northern end of the long-unused Chicago & North Western Railroad swing bridge with a new segment of the Milwaukee RiverWalk and a plaza planted with native vegetation. The project was met with unanimous approval from the City Plan Commission, including lofty praise from one commissioner.

The park is being designed under the careful eye of architect Jim Shields of HGA Architects. Shields, whose office is less than a block from the site, clearly has invested lots of time in the project. He told the commission “if there’s something more that could be done for wildlife habitat here, I would like to know because I would like to do it.” Based on a book found from before the incorporation of Milwaukee in 1846, the site will be planted with white cedar, balsam poplar, crab apple and white oak trees — all recorded as growing in the area before the city was settled.

In his remarks before the commission, the architect stated “there is a lot of boat traffic, so it’s a great place to hang out. The fishing’s not bad either, as I can attest to.” Shields won’t be alone in his fishing; the architect envisions a naturally-planted space between the riverwalk trail and Milwaukee River as a haven for night herons.

Shields and others at HGA are creating the project under a piggyback arrangement off their contract with the Mandel Group to design the adjacent DoMUS Apartments (see my recent profile of the project). As a Mandel representative told the commission, the curving of the DoMUS project to follow the river opens up substantial sight lines and visibility to the park.

A riverwalk segment, in effect a slowly sloping bridge, will connect the higher DoMUS apartments riverwalk segment to the trestle structure and then continue down to the riverwalk segment at the Hansen’s Landing condominiums.

New York State of Mind

Commissioner Whitney Gould, the former architecture critic for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, praised the project, calling it “a mini version of the High Line.” That drew a quick laugh from Shields, who interjected “but it’s on the ground.” Never the less, Shields had to be pleased with the comparison. The award-winning High Line, a 1.45-mile-long linear park built atop a former elevated railroad line in lower Manhattan, is the pinnacle of modern urban park design.

The High Line isn’t the only New York City park the project draws inspiration from. In explaining the trestle, which will be rebuilt to remove contaminated timber, Shields noted that the end of the trestle will feature a seating area with movable furniture similar to that found at New York’s Bryant Park. Shields notes design considerations are still ongoing to determine how to best keep young men from tossing any furniture into the river.


Swing Bridge

While it’s virtually certain a train will never run through the site again, the park’s design won’t turn its back on its railroad heritage. Old railroad lights will be reused to illuminate the park. The walkways in the park, a mix of wood and concrete pavers, are being planned in a linear pattern to reflect the nature of the former railroad track running through the site.

Plans for the iconic swing bridge itself are far from materializing. In a response to a question from the commission, Shields stated “we’re allowing the swing bridge to close and operate, even if we think it’s an unlikely scenario.” He noted that as he understands the situation the Army Corps of Engineers has given notice to Union Pacific to fix the bridge or remove it. Calli Hite, director, corporate communications at Union Pacific, told Urban Milwaukee via email “Union Pacific’s Milwaukee River swing bridge is classified as a discontinued but not abandoned part of our rail network. Last fall, we installed solar navigation lights meeting U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) specifications, and we continue to maintain the bridge in compliance with the USCG’s laws of navigation.”

NEWaukee proposed a park for the swing bridge in 2013.

Project Costs and Timeline

The city acquired the roughly third of an acre site from the Union Pacific Corp. in 2013 for $52,950. Final costs for the park are still being determined. The project will be financed through the existing tax-incremental financing district that covers the area.

According to Department of City Development spokesperson Jeff Fleming “any cost estimates will be rolled out when the TID amendment is presented to [the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee].” The city anticipates advancing the project at the July 20th RACM meeting.

According to Mandel Group vice president Andy Wiegman construction is expected to commence this fall.

A Bublr Bikes bike-sharing station is also planned for the park. The 840-square-foot bridge tender house, located just east of the proposed park, is being redeveloped into a private residence by Greg Martin.

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13 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Mini Version of the High Line?”

  1. Brian Peters says:

    I am just wondering from a nautical navigation perspective – How is this going to affect boat traffic?
    There is a lot of traffic in the area since the boat launch is a few blocks away.

  2. Tim says:

    They will be using the existing structure that’s in the river… so no change that would affect boat traffic.

  3. AG says:

    Brian, the trestle already exists and does not impede river traffic. This is just building on the existing bridge that extends into the river.

    Regarding the design, I’m disappointed it’s trying to create a “natural” habitat in such an urban area. It just doesn’t fit… but the main reason is that there is so little green space in the area for people to enjoy and the tall native grasses don’t allow people to use the open area except on the boardwalk and paved area. Picnic on that? Er… no…

  4. David Peters says:

    For those curious here’s bird’s eye view of the current site:,-87.9072981,159a,35y,105h,55.19t/data=!3m1!1e3

  5. I’m pretty sure fishing on the downtown part of the river is not permitted. You do not want a bunch of lines in the water in an area where there is a lot of boat traffic.

  6. Jeff Jordan says:

    As usual anything involving Jim Shields is creative and wonderful to look at. This project is going to take an area of the river that needs some occupation by human beings to make it live and breathe. Great idea I hope they follow through on this. It’s going to make the Riverwalk a little nicer to walk on.

  7. Sam says:

    @ AG

    There are two traditional parks with regular grass not a block or two away from this site. If you want to picnic, I recommend Catalano Square…it’s really nice.

    I worry that this will look nice initially, but eventually look tired and in need of maintenance. It’s as if designers forget it’s winter 8 months out of the year. I suggest using long lasting materials (not wood) that require little to no maintenance, unless Mandel Group plans on footing the bill.

  8. Virginia says:

    This does look cool. But I wonder what the public-input process has been on this project, other than City Hall hearings (and this article).

    Sadly, Milwaukee has a lot of parks in Greater Downtown that don’t get much use, even cool-looking ones. Of course, some parts of the Riverwalk are the exception and this has potential to draw from that. At least they are talking about movable seating. And I like that there are lots of trees.

  9. AG says:

    Sam, yes I agree and that was my point. Catalano Square is pretty much it. I suppose maybe you can count Erie St. Plaza but that’s a whole different idea all together and while it’s kinda cool, I still would have preferred the original bamboo plan. That would have been really something unique.

    I completely agree with your sentiment in your second paragraph… but also apply it to the “natural” plants because those can easily just become a big mess most of the year. You want nature, the third ward isn’t the place to go.

  10. Greg Walz-Chojnacki says:

    I’d prefer to see this trestle as part of the region’s biking infrastructure, but short of that, this is a nice idea.

  11. davidday says:

    I think this is brilliant. Especially the idea to use native flora.

  12. Ryan says:

    Give some breaks to some industry’s,to attrack industry, so it’s profitable for the railroad. Put the tracks back in!! Give them somewhere to go!! These trails/parks are nothing but a reminder of the failure the general public and local government have failed to maintain commerce,- ,commerce that brings more jobs and local revenue, than any trail or park will. I don’t want to hear of any people crying about the eye sore of the railroad -you exist now because of the railroads. End of story.

  13. Ryan says:

    Take that same money, and attract or give a gift to attrack some industry, and then put the tracks back in! Give the tracks somewhere to go, instead of building yuipie condo’s. You as a public and local government have failed to maintain this. Some industry ( yep right where they used to be in front of summerfest) is the best answer. I don’t want to hear the crying about the eye/ear sore of a Railroad, YOU exist because of the railroads. Some industry, which will provide more revenue and jobs way more than a park or trail ever will… End of story.

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