Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Is Bucks Live Block Good Urbanism?

Council committee debates merits of new building for Old World Third St., gateway to arena.

By - May 22nd, 2018 02:03 pm
Updated Live Block Connector Plan. Rendering by Rinka Chung Architecture.

Updated Live Block Connector Plan. Rendering by Rinka Chung Architecture.

The Milwaukee Bucks, Rinka Chung Architecture and members of the Common Council have found themselves at odds over the design of one of the smallest pieces of the smallest building at the new arena complex. Yet, despite its small scale, all parties agree it’s an important site in the creation of the Deer District.

The team, through its real-estate affiliate, came before the council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee Tuesday morning to secure approval for their plans to replace a portion of a proposed beer garden with a one-story building for their Live Block connector. The connector is intended to allow visitors to easily go from N. Old World Third St. to the arena and “Live Block” entertainment center complex on N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. (formerly N. 4th St.).

The site, located at 1129-1135 N. Old World Third St., would include a large pedestrian passageway and new building in between two taverns, Ugly’s Pub and The Loaded Slate. The 2,045-square-foot, two-tenant building would be geared towards food and beverage tenants.

“It’s a really important site because it’s the connector to the existing urban fabric around the site,” said Rinka Chung project director Audry Grill.

The committee had unanimously endorsed the team’s plan for the site in November, before the building was included. And while the concept of adding this building isn’t drawing opposition, its proposed design drew derision from members of the zoning committee.

At issue is an extension made of blackened steel panels. Grill says they’re proposed to make the one-story building have more of a street presence, to better match the two nearby buildings and cover heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment.

Alderman Nik Kovac sees things differently. He compared the half-floor design feature to something found in a suburban, fast food restaurant: “In general I feel like buildings should be as high as they actually are… I would rather you did do a two-story building.”

“He’s right, it reads Mayfair Collection all over it with the paneling,” added committee chair Ald. Jim Bohl referencing the new auto-centric shopping center in Wauwatosa. Bohl said he liked the large glass windows and charred wood paneling on the building itself, but thought the steel paneling was too dark.

Department of City Development planning manager Vanessa Koster said DCD supports the steel paneling. “We thought it was a high-quality material that was being explored,” she said, before noting that the city’s zoning code does not regulate color.

“It has a really interesting texture when you walk up next to it,” added Grill.

Kovac asked about the potential for a rooftop deck to alleviate the issue. But the Bucks don’t see that as a good fit. “With the tenants we want to bring in, rooftop access doesn’t make sense,” said team vice president Alex Lasry.

“[Tenants] could be anywhere from a carryout food company to a bar or restsaurant,” said Lasry. He cited Insomnia Cookies an example of the type of tenant who could occupy the space, but wouldn’t want a rooftop deck. And while Insomnia likely isn’t one of them, Lasry says the team does already have interested tenants for the two stalls.

The building and passageway is a gateway into a covered beer garden that borders the entertainment center buildings and connects with the plaza at the arena’s front door. “Everything that we’re trying to do here is to make it easy for people to have a good time,” said Lasry. He told the committee that the team is exploring ways to allow patrons to bring drinks into the open air spaces and go between different bars, even the ones the Bucks won’t have a stake in.

Kovac is on board with plans to activate the area, but not the design. “This is what suburban strip malls do, they make one-story buildings look like one-and-a-half-story buildings and I don’t know why,” he stated.

Lasry’s response: “We think if you actually just put a one-story building here, it wouldn’t look as good with the heights of the building surrounding it.”

After a substantial debate on the measure, Rinka Chung project architect Jessica Timmer came forward and added that the firm actually did revise the design a few days ago. The firm didn’t remove the steel paneling, but instead of terminating it abruptly had it turn the corner and run to the rear of the building to better wrap the rooftop equipment.

After learning of changes to the paneling to turn the corner and better frame the roof, Kovac interjected “that’s better.”

He concluded his remarks by noting that cornices aren’t uncommon on buildings, but aren’t usually found on one-story buildings. He contended the more urban thing to do would be a two-story building.

Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs added, “I would just say in the future, lead with the latest, that might have saved us a few minutes.”

But the committee ultimately gave unanimous approval to the project. The team promised to have updated renderings submitted to the city in time for the full Common Council meeting.

The project was unanimously endorsed by the City Plan Commission in early May.

The team wants to get to work on the project quickly, with Grill stating that the exterior is scheduled for completion on October 1st.


Earlier Connector Renderings and Site Plans

Live Block Plans

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4 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Is Bucks Live Block Good Urbanism?”

  1. MidnightSon says:

    Tempest in a teapot. There are plenty of buildings that have facades and roofs that cover/disguise mechanical stuff on top of them. Please, someone cite the tenet of urbanism that says this is wrong, thereby diminishing the urbanism of the development. The greater issue may be the fact that the building is just a single story but, whatever.

  2. michael says:

    If we’re going to gripe about something, it should be wrecking the street grid & turning 4th street into a pedestrian plaza. The only saving grace of that idea is the possibility that some day it becomes an amazing streetcar plaza if we ever end up running lines that fork there, with one heading toward Vliet and the other up towards MLK.

  3. Sam says:

    @ Michael

    Right on. That the city folded on that issue (regardless of any reversion back to the city in the future that was written in) is ridiculous. They could have easily said no or compromised on some retractable bollard design to maintain the street grid when the Bucks aren’t using it.

    The arena will not be used for most of the year, I can already see this as dead space except for games (when it’s 20 degrees out) and the occasional concert (won’t fill anywhere near the rest of the calendar).

    The design is much better than initially anticipated however. I was worried we would have a Bayshore Mall on our hands.

  4. Milwaukee Native says:

    The issues don’t really seem to come down to “good urbanism,” which would involve much more than what is planned here. That would include promoting real connectivity within the larger neighborhood including Bronzeville, and multiple reasons to go there by day and by night.

    Bottom line: the Bucks want to get as many paying customers as possible into their single-use entertainment complex. That will likely require attracting more new patrons than already visit the bars on 3rd Street etc., including from the suburbs. As others have noted, it will probably be a dead zone much of the time no matter how it is designed.

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