Downtown Neighbors Association
Op Ed

10 Reasons To Create a Downtown Park

Or why the Bradley Center site should be turned into a public park.

By - Nov 6th, 2017 01:33 pm
New Milwaukee Bucks arena and surrounding area. Rendering by Populous.

New Milwaukee Bucks arena and surrounding area. Rendering by Populous.

The Downtown Neighbors Association of Milwaukee has launched an effort to begin a public discussion regarding the future of the site where the Bradley Center will eventually be torn down. For all the reasons noted below, we believe that this site would be an excellent location for a new public park once the arena building is razed next year.

We believe that the park should include a substantial dog park component as well as playground space for kids and other public space.

DNA MKE is asking members of the public to read our “Top 10” list and sign our online petition asking the Wisconsin Center District, the City of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Bucks to conduct a serious, complete and public examination of this concept. The Top 10 reasons:

10. The Bradley Center site is located between the new Bucks’ arena to the north, the UWM Panther arena to the south and Turner Hall and the new Live Block entertainment district to the east (with 4th Street closed from Highland to Juneau)—it is not a site conducive for residential or hotel development due to the traffic, noise and crowds these venues will generate during evenings on 250 or more dates each year.

9. The site is also not attractive for office development because it is not near a cluster of other office buildings—retail uses seem even less likely in today’s online world and no further restaurant, tavern or other hospitality uses are needed with nearby Live Block, Pabst Brewery, Old World Third Street, Water Street and other venues already competing for a piece of the pie.

8. There is ample and far more attractive development space available nearby, just north of Juneau Avenue between 3rd and 5th Streets, which is now controlled by the Bucks and can support the TIF district created to help finance the Bucks’ arena and associated development — a dog park, playground and other outdoor public space nearby at the Bradley Center site — would only enhance the development prospects of this former freeway corridor.

7. For all these reasons, the Bradley Center site will be a tough site to develop and may sit vacant for years—instead of another surface parking lot (like 4th & Wisconsin has been for 30+ years), let’s create a true public amenity now that compliments the arenas and other nearby uses.

6. Downtown is growing into a desirable residential center—to keep the momentum rolling, dog parks, playgrounds for children and other public space are all needed to provide a well-rounded set of amenities for downtown residents, as well as downtown workers and visitors.

5. Aside from the lakefront, there is very little green space downtown and very few publicly controlled large parcels of land suitable for park space—until the Bradley Center comes down.

4. A park at this location will attract daytime users during the basketball season, as well as day and evening users during the summer—this will activate the area at times when there are no events at the neighboring sports and entertainment venues, preventing the “dead zone” typically associated with these sites when not in use.

3. Urban Park on the lakefront, just north of Henry Maier Festival Park, now provides a great model for a parcel of publicly-owned land that has been adopted by its much larger entertainment venue neighbor, Summerfest, which will improve and maintain this complimentary public space in 2018—Bradley Park could likewise be built, operated and maintained as an open and free public space by the Wisconsin Center District and the Bucks.

2. The Bradley family deserves a permanent and public reminder of the generosity demonstrated by Jane Bradley Pettit 30 years ago when she financed the then-new arena—Bradley Park at this same location would be a very appropriate honor.

1. The tax-paying public—especially those who aren’t basketball fans—deserve a new, fun and free amenity at this site, in exchange for contributing more than $250 million to the new Bucks’ arena and associated developments.

If you agree, please join the Downtown Neighbors Association in urging the Wisconsin Center District, the City of Milwaukee and the Milwaukee Bucks to conduct a serious, complete and public examination of this concept and how it might become a reality. You can sign the petition here.

Categories: Op-Ed, Real Estate

23 thoughts on “Op Ed: 10 Reasons To Create a Downtown Park”

  1. Dave K says:

    Not sure I can agree. The Bradley Center site sits squarely between both McArthur Square and Pere Marquette Park on the River. There was recently a proposed concept for the revitalization of Marquette Park (perhaps a beer garden) and I love the addition of a dog park and playground concept here. We also could breath life into the Marcus Center’s outdoor amphitheater and related space. And what about Zeidler Square and Juneau Park…not far away. We have reasonable public green space downtown but each of them could use attention. Put the Bradley Center lot back on the tax rolls to help support these existing spaces. Love Parks! But not this park concept…

  2. Connor says:

    Let me start by saying I am all for preserving and keeping the parks we currently have. That being said I think this would be an awful idea to put a park in this area.
    1.) I can park for free at many other dog parks to take my dogs to, no way parking would be free here.
    2.) Its the perfect location for a hotel, that will collect a tax to ease the woes of the tax paying public.
    3.) “The tax-paying public—especially those who aren’t basketball fans—deserve a new, fun and free amenity at this site, in exchange for contributing more than $250 million to the new Bucks’ arena and associated developments”
    4.) Best place to beg for money for drugs and booze, an area where there are 250 events next door, very attractive to the homeless.
    5.) Can’t kick them out, its public land.
    6.) Additional county workers to clean the park when its trashed by Event fans pre or post event
    7.) Campers, people will camp in the park to wait for tickets, extra sheriffs to patrol the park on those nights $$$$$
    8.) There is going to be a live block and plaza already. This will bring people in during non event days and daytime hours.
    9.) The current parks sit mostly empty unless there is a farmers market, there would need to be a lot of farmers in Milwaukee to keep that busy.
    10.) Milwaukee is growing, don’t stunt the growth by putting a park somewhere, where it really does not belong.

    I agree Jane Pettit deserves recognition and it can be done by dedicating a statue or something else in her name, but Arena districts are not the place for parks. Cities are dark and dirty and a simple green space with $20 parking will not fix this.

  3. Donna says:

    I don’t know much about urban planing, but like Central Park in NY (tho this park is much smaller) it would raise the tax rate of buildings and businesses around it as a desirable place to be and to view. New people in Milwaukee, who already enjoy the ‘walkability’ of our downtown, would welcome this. I think a park there is a good idea now for ‘human space’ and for the long term, a very good investment.

  4. Dwayne Pittman says:

    No park will enhance this site like a hotel with 400 rooms or more, Wisconsin Hall Of Fame Center for sports legends, entertainers, community leaders, scholars, inventors and others. This will highlight Wisconsin talent for generation in the future and motivate wisconsinites to reach high.

  5. Joe Franke says:

    Get involved, Milwaukee.

    We are trying to do that very thing.

  6. Joe Franke says:

    We are on track to doing that very thing.

  7. There are only four acres of public parks in Westown. (A city PR person informed me recently that the City no longer even considers the forlorn MacArthur Square a park.)

    There’s a bit more park acreage in East Town, but Downtown proper is rather “park poor by most standards. As more people move Downtown, the need for green space (not just concrete plazas) will increase. Americans have come to expect adequate, well-maintained parks in cities, including with playgrounds (of which I believe there are none in Westown).

    R.T. Rybak, Minneapolis’s former mayor, recommended on a visit here in 2015 that officials set aside land for parks, since space for urban parks is often hard to come by. He championed the creation of the 4-acre park next to the new Vikings stadium.

    Re: the Bucks planned plaza, it will function as a commercial space, not a public space. The Bucks’ lease gives them complete control over its usage, including the right to charge admission to events in the space.

    Whether this is the exact best place for a park, it’s interesting that many people living Downtown believe the lack of parks needs to be addressed.

  8. Brady Troeller says:


    So everything I got out of that, is that we should be revitalizing McArthur Square and not waste this highly valuable piece of land with another park. Let’s remove the parking garage from McArthur, rebuild the buildings around it (they are all reaching end of life anyway) and make that into the public space that Kilbourntown (it has an awesome historic name, lets not using something bland) desperately needs.

  9. @Brady, I agree that post-apocalyptic MacArthur Square, etc. need a complete redo. But I wonder if that could fully address the civic concerns/needs cited in this article.

    Some urbanists think that creative public discourse is needed about how to “repair” the many negative impacts decades of “urban-renewal” projects that have mostly left Westown a people-repelling concrete jungle. DNA is now fostering more discussion about these issues. There’s also a long-term planning effort underway called Milwaukee United (funded by the Greater Milwaukee Committee and others).

    Milwaukee’s Downtown boom is revitalizing the “private realm.” However, the public realm continues to languish, including many streets and sidewalks.

    All great cities have great parks and public spaces, including within their downtowns. And investing in well-done public parks increases the “value” of adjacent real estate.

    And here’s a report about a proposed beer garden in Pere Marquette Park.

  10. MidnightSon says:

    I wish I could fine the article from years ago–well before the current new arena site was determined–that featured a conceptual design placing the arena on the current site and a park on the old Bradley Center site. I don’t know who the developers were, but it argued that this would be exactly the right site for a park given the area’s activation by the new arena and other mixed uses, including residential.

    I tend to agree. This is an entire block that will be available in a downtown that does not have such an opportunity.

    The long game regarding taxes, is that parks and other amenities raise the (taxable) value of nearby properties. If there is any place for public, outdoor recreating, it is where many people will regularly be. And, if there is really a need to monetize this, build it on top of an underground parking structure owned by the city. (The model for this would be Union Square in San Francisco.) City owned parking generates revenue. And, it is frequently cheaper than private parking. The Bucks may not want that competition for their structure to the north. Fine, private underground parking and tax the owner.

    It’s not like MKE seems to be in any great hurry to get rid of the plethora of surface parking lots. Parking lots, not pubilc parks, are the real blight on downtown and a waste of potentially highly-taxed development. (Zoning and motivated political pressure could change this.) If only M’waukeans could manage to get out of their cars and walk a couple blocks without needing a beer and a brat at the end of that long friggin’ journey as motivation.

  11. Thomas Spellman says:

    A memorial to WASTE!!! But a nice park with a fence and 6 or 8 entrances and lots of trees and gardens to wander around in I could see that. The WASTE still blows my mind And then the children……… Hummmm

  12. Sam says:

    Westtown lacks population density. We should be encouraging development of all available vacant land in the area so as to increase the tax base.

    If you haven’t noticed, the city/county are cutting their budgets. We barely have money for the parks we have. Adding to that burden is a terrible idea.

  13. Franz says:

    A new park kiddy corner from the MacArthur Square disaster? Spend that time and energy on redoing MacArthur square! On axis with the courthouse and terminating kilbourn avenue, it could be a spectacular space visible from the lake. Connect it to the adjacent streets, both physically and visually, i.e. add a monumental, continuous set of steps along 7th between the parking garage entrances for starters. Turn the fountain back on and add more water features. If done properly and in coordination with the museum redevelopment, it could be Milwaukee’s millennium park.

    The Bradley Center superblock should be broken down into the traditional city grid with alleys and all. Allow for smaller scale mixed residential and retail development, a continuation of the old world third street scale and character. It could be the Marais to the Bucks’ arena’s Pompidou Center.

  14. Virginia says:

    “Westtown lacks population density. We should be encouraging development of all available vacant land in the area so as to increase the tax base.”

    Sam, when might the city and county set aside land for the public parks that make high-density areas livable? Successful cities have set aside land even if it might be years before they fully develop those parks.

    Franz, yes, MKE could do well to look to Paris for inspiration. Pompidou, a way-cool cultural center–is surrounded by a large and vibrant public plaza. Same with the Louvre.,g_9:george&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=0ahUKEwik6LbOx63XAhUI9IMKHdBkA9YQ4lYIOigC&biw=1433&bih=632&dpr=0.75

  15. MidnightSon says:

    @Franz, et al,

    If there were going to be “Le Marais” in Kilbourntown, I already have it placed in the triangle between the River on the east, 3rd Street on the west, and Wisconsin Avenue on the south. If we could get those darn surface packing lots developed into residential with ground floor retail…and also activate the alleys in beween with small shops, pubs, open air and night markets, etc., that would be *my* Milwaukee Marais.

    While I’m at it, and because The Milwaukee Public Museum disappointed us a couple weeks ago in making a “non-announcement” at its gala about the desired site of its new facility, I’ll share with you all (because now one else will listen!) that I think the half block just west of Pere Marquette Park is perfect. The Journal Sentinel reported in April that “ProVisions LLC, led by Murray Wikol, also has conceptual plans to demolish a portion of the property, the old Milwaukee Sentinel building, and develop an 18-story office tower at the site.” This is in addition to renovating the paper’s offices facing 4th Street. Wikol owns the entire block.

    This would play very nicely into the City’s plan for downtown, especially it’s “catalytic project” having to do with Pere Marquette Square. See page 187+:

    This would mean activating all of the surface parking around the park. The Journal Sentinel land facing the park would be prime for a new Milwaukee Public Museum-facing the river and the Marcus Center. A great location for kids field trips. (It’s where I thought the museum was headed when after strongly suggesting it preferred becoming part of a lakefront museum campus, it shifted and expressed a commitment to Westown. At any rate, a mixed use concept on the newspaper’s property that includes an 18-story office tower and a museum, coupled with developing all of the other parking lots, still leaves plenty of opportunity to develop a park on the Bradley Center site.

    So MidnightSon has written, so it shall be done. 😉

  16. Bruce Thompson says:

    I tend to agree with the Downtown Neighbor Assn. folks. I think the evidence is that cities who create a compelling environment win and those fixated on being cheap decline.

  17. Jeremy says:

    I’m for reactivating MacArthur Square. The State building on 6th and Wells will be available, the MPM wants to relocate, the lot on 6th & State is only surface parking and begging for redevelopment, the County needs to replace the Safety building on 9th & State and should fold in City of Milwaukee District 1 to the new building. That leaves a relatively blank canvass after you do away with those stupid freeway ramps. Fix Mac square, it’s already off the tax rolls and echoing Midnight Son, the catalytic project for that area would be great- Kilbourn Extension

    Look through this plan. So much progress has been made!

  18. Thomas Spellman says:

    IF true and see not reason that it is not the redesign of the the State office building Safety Building and the offices of the MPD and the old UW extension site and what happens to the Bradley Center ALL should be figured out BEFORE anything is done Adding pieces only gets you an assortment of stuff This is the time for a plan by the city and county and state for the PUBLIC GOOD not the private gain

    It is interesting the communities acceptance of the destruction of 40+ million dollar building Did we really put a permanent Ice Skating – Hockey in the new facility? If not where are they? I guess I am of the old school where 40+ million dollars is real. Probably to late to rethink its destruction but to understand from any point of view its deconstruction which will cost how much more??


    PS part of the failure of MacArthur Square is the impossibly of have TREES and there is not enough SUN to make a plaza work in Wisconsin. Even “street” vendors have never set up shop.

  19. Franz says:

    @midnight sun.

    I completely agree with you about the area you defined as having “marais” potential. But the Bradley Center site is adjacent to that. Why not make it an extension of it? One of the major problems with Kilbourn Town is the strip of massive super blocks. They extend from 6th to 4th and from McKinley to Wisconsin. That strip completely thwarts pedestrian connectivity between the triangle you mentioned around 3rd Street and the western edge of downtown. Reintroducing lower scale, traditional urban fabric to the Bradley Center site could act as a bridge, building on and carrying over from 3rd and 4th Streets. An open public plaza at the same super block scale would reinforce the area as boundary, not a bridge.

    The reason I mentioned the Pompidou Center in Paris is because it works even though it differs from the tight urban fabric and architectural style of its context (the marais). Were it surrounded by equally massive structures and open spaces, I am not sure it would be successful. I see the Bucks’ live space as having the greatest potential to create the character of the plaza in front the Pompidou, but it needs the dense urban (not necessarily tall) development around it. Another park next to it seems redundant and could ultimately weaken both spaces.

    And if the MPM and the Safety Building are to leave MacArthur Square then it’s a blank slate. What can you do with the Bradley Center block that you can’t do there?

    @Thomas Spellman
    There are actually a lot of trees in MacArthur Square, some pretty tall ones.

  20. @Franz, re: “What can you do with the Bradley Center block that you can’t do there [at the Bucks plaza]?”

    The Bucks’ 30-year lease for all plazas around their Arena gives them complete control over their access and functions. People will be welcome as the Bucks owners see fit, just as with the plaza, parking lot, etc. of any private enterprise. Events and commerce held there will be at the Bucks’ complete discretion, They will even be able to charge admission.

    I’ve not heard of any plans for a children’s playground or dog park.

    I will be very surprised if the Bucks plaza functions anything like the Pompidou Center’s lively public plaza, which is the site of much creative activity–an extension of it being a cultural center.

  21. Connor says:

    @Virginia Small The concept of a children’s park or dog park in this area is ridiculous. This area is going to have some of the highest parking rates in the city. With 250 event dates schedule for the Arena, this area will only be accessible for maybe 100 day of the year. There is not enough residential density in this area to support your theory either.

  22. Virginia says:

    @Connor, to clarify, I was responding to Franz’s Q, which I reffed up front. And my remark about a playground/dog park referred to those amenities as specified by DNA in this article. I was not implying that the Bucks plaza should directly accommodate dogs or toddlers.

    I’ve just learned of DNA’s effort and am neutral about the case they are making for this specific site. Besides DNA, some business owners and civic leaders have publicly called for more and better parks and public spaces within Downtown, since potential employees and residents and even visitors expect them as part of urban QOL. It’s a discussion worth having, and this thread is contributing to that process.

  23. Joel says:

    Did anyone see the response to the park idea on the news yesterday? Only saw end of story, but heard some woman say it’s unlikely there will ever be a park here because the stadium is on land that will not be taxed therefore we can’t have 2 whole blocks in the city not being taxed…
    Disappointing how sort sighted of a thought that is…

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