Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Domes Task Force Recommends $66 Million Plan

Plan to radically alter the domes and Mitchell Park demands fast decision making.

By - Aug 14th, 2019 05:13 pm
Get a daily rundown of the top stories on Urban Milwaukee
Rendering of redevelopment of Mitchell Park.

Rendering of redevelopment of Mitchell Park.

After three years, the task force charged with developing plans for the future of the Mitchell Park Domes is ready to submit a final recommendation to the Milwaukee County Board.

The Milwaukee County Task Force on the Mitchell Park Conservatory Domes voted Tuesday to recommend a $66 million business plan developed for them by ArtsMarket LLC. As previously reported, the plan completely reenvisions not just the domes, but also Mitchell Park, and it is going to take some hustle on the part of the county to implement it.

The business plan received a nearly unanimous vote Tuesday. Only task force member and Milwaukee County Parks Director Guy Smith abstained from the vote, withholding his stamp of approval until the plan receives a financial review from the County Comptroller and a legal review by the Office of the Corporation Counsel.

The $66 million plan requires 20 percent of the funds, or $13.5 million, to come from the county at a time when it’s facing a $28 million deficit just for 2019, and a capital project backlog approaching nearly half a billion.

Timing is key to the ArtsMarket plan. The county will have to complete several significant financing steps before the end of 2019 to make it work. “It needs to not sit on a shelf for a long period,” said Louise K. Stevens, lead consultant and founder of ArtsMarket.

The task force approved two resolutions Tuesday. The first recommends the business plan. The second recommends that the county keep ArtsMarket on to help implement the plan and hire a full time project manager. It also recommends putting the domes project in the 2020 budget, developing key financing pieces and applying for inclusion on the Register of Historic Places.

Essentially, the second resolution recommends the county start putting the first pieces of the plan together now, so that it gets the ball rolling. Two members of the task force, Stuart Carron and Roger Krawiecki voted against this resolution. And Smith abstained.

County Board supervisors on the task force said they are ready to bring the plan to their colleagues on the board. Sup. Sylvia Ortiz-Velez said, “I think this is the best plan so far.” Sup. Jason Haas, who authored the task force resolutions with task force chair Bill Lynch, said, “I’m now officially excited.”

Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb saluted the task force’s work saying he is “eager to review their recommendations.”

Having approved the ArtsMarket business plan, the task force will recommend that the county redevelop the domes and Mitchell Park into an Urban Botanical Park that is sustainable over the next 50 years. This means significant investments in new amenities and attractions for the park as well as revamped operations for the domes, which currently have limited revenue potential.

ArtsMarket estimates that when completed, the redeveloped park and domes will stimulate $16 million a year in spending and jobs both on the site and in the surrounding community. It’s expected the park will easily employ 300 people and have approximately 300,000 visitors a year.

ArtsMarket LLC told the task force in May that to save the domes they would have to think big. And in July the consulting group warned that to pay for the domes, they would have to work fast.

The plan is big. It turns Mitchell Park into an event destination and a venue for urban agriculture and workforce development. It will completely revamp the programming and horticultural exhibits of the domes, bringing in traveling exhibits. It would put a restaurant in the park, new landscaping, a cleaned up, redeveloped lagoon and a brand new visitor center, among many other things.

And to pay for all of this, ArtsMarket is recommending a financing stack that includes Historic Preservation Tax Credits, Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, New Market Tax Credits (NMTC) and Opportunity Zone Financing (OZ). The latter two, NMTC and OZ, work well together. And, because this year is the best year for OZ investors to get a tax break, those financing mechanisms will need to be in place by the end of this calendar year, Stevens said. On top of that, the plan would need some pieces of the redevelopment to be shovel ready by Spring 2020.

Along with the tax credits and PACE financing, the plan expects a private capital campaign seeking funds from local donors and investors that matches the county’s 20 percent. Stevens has maintained that the county’s $13.5 million investment is a linchpin for the project. Without the county money, the project will come to a screeching halt and won’t be possible, at least “for a number of years,” Stevens said.

“The numbers work,” she said. But they need speed and they need the county to pony up.

But even with the task force’s recommendation, the business plan still has to survive the County Board’s legislative process and review by the County’s Comptroller and Corporation Counsel.

The Domes

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here.

More about the Future of The Domes

One thought on “MKE County: Domes Task Force Recommends $66 Million Plan”

  1. Gregg Mulry says:

    Great plan, but this just one of the many projects the county needs to address. Meanwhile, the deficit grows, everyone points fingers and no one seems to be looking at how to curtail deficits over time. We already have some of the highest property tax rates in the country.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us