Mini Version of the High Line?
New Third Ward park inspired by New York also honors early Milwaukee history.
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.
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.
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.”
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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