Graham Kilmer
MKE County

‘Classic Car Garden’ Planned for Wilson Park

The proposal from the business district almost bogged down by administrative red tape.

By - Jan 28th, 2021 11:15 am

Highway 41 Historic Gardens rendering.

A community organization is planning to activate an otherwise empty piece of land in Wilson Park.

The South 27th Street Business District Association is proposing to plant trees and install gardens and benches to a 2.3-acre parcel at the northwest corner of Wilson Park, just outside of the Wilson Park Senior Center along W. Howard Avenue.

This is the latest beautification effort by the business district in the corridor. Recently, new paneling was added to a few bus shelters on S. 27th Street as a nod to the corridor’s pre-freeway history as U.S. Route 41.

This section of Wilson Park would become, as Tara Cavazos, executive director of the business district described it, a “classic car garden” called Highway 41 Historic Gardens. The garden would also commemorate the growth and development of the area in the 1950s.

The organization would plant perennial and wildflower gardens. Planters and benches would be made out of the shells of classic cars and trucks. Trees would be planted, and benches and picnic tables installed. Local artists would be commissioned to paint the classic car frames in the garden.

The idea, Cavazos said, is to “generate some activity and experience” in a corner of Wilson Park that is currently “pretty empty of activity.”

The district had previously proposed the idea through the Parks Improvement Process, but the department didn’t have the staff and resources for it. So the district offered to cover all the operations and maintenance of the park.

The business district had hoped to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the county that would allow it to activate the space and establish an agreement maintain it. Cavazos said they hoped to have it ready for summer 2021. But, apparently, it’s not that simple.

On Tuesday, when the proposal went before the Parks, Energy and Environment Committee, officials from Milwaukee County Parks said they could not do a memorandum of understanding with the business district.

A MOU does not provide the contractual assurances that the parks department would want before letting a private organization make alterations to parkland. Parks wanted a lease. Jeremy Lucas, director of administration and planning for parks, said a lease could take months to negotiate.

The district and Sup. Jason Haas, who represents the area, were hoping to have an agreement in place by the March meeting cycle. Lucas said that might not be feasible.

“It’s a great idea,” Haas said, “It’s getting burdened with, until very recently, unforeseen administrative requirements.” Sup. Sheldon Wasserman, chair of the parks committee, shared Haas’ vexation, saying the business district was seeking a “sincere partnership” and the process was being slowed down, potentially leading the district to walk away.

Lucas and Parks Director Guy Smith explained that parks would want concrete terms in place covering construction, maintenance and removal, and they felt only a lease would provide that. Erica Hayden, contracts manager for parks, said an MOU did not have the “contractual promises” the parks department wants when it lets a private entity make changes to parkland.

Dave Farwell, assistant corporation counsel for Milwaukee County, disagreed that a lease was necessary. In fact, Farwell said, a lease could give the business district rights as a tenant that the county may not want to provide in a contract for an urban garden. Farwell said an MOU or a contract could spell out the obligations the county would want in place.

Eventually, the committee passed an amended resolution, that directs parks and corporation counsel to hammer out an agreement, be it an MOU, a contract or a lease, which will be delivered to the board by March, or barring that, a status of negotiations will be provided at that time.

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