Work Starting on Cathedral Square Upgrade
Changing popular park's perimeter to accommodate crowds, make square more attractive
A project to improve the perimeter of one of Downtown’s most popular parks is getting underway.
Cathedral Square Friends and Milwaukee Downtown, Business Improvement District #21 announced Monday that work will begin shortly on an approximately $1.85 million project streetscaping project at Cathedral Square Park. JCP Construction will lead the general contracting on the project.
Unhealthy perimeter trees will be replaced and additional trees added, with protective wells added around each base. Benches, bicycle racks and garbage cans will also be added.
Cathedral Square Park fills a full city block, bordered by E. Kilbourn Ave., N. Jackson St., E. Wells St. and N. Jefferson St. Pre-pandemic, the park hosted a weekly music series, Jazz in the Park, the Bastille Days festival and a number of other events throughout the year.
“For years Cathedral Square has been in need of repairs and upgrades, and this is the next step towards the revitalization of the square,” said Cathedral Square Friends president and Urban Milwaukee publisher Dave Reid when the proposal was first introduced in February 2020.
The project also includes replacing the curb and associated ramps that ring the park. Special attention will be paid to the south end of the park, with new landscaping and low, concrete landscape walls that people may sit on. A screen will be added to shield a utility box at the southwest corner. In the coming years, the Department of Public Works intends to rebuild the adjacent E. Wells St.
The funds are coming from a 2002 tax incremental financing district used to fund the 940-stall parking structure at the base of the Cathedral Place office and residential condominium complex. The district is overperforming initial estimates and generating excess incremental property tax revenue.
In early 2020, the Common Council approved amending the district to contribute $7.75 million to the underperforming Century City district over five years and $1.8 million to streetscaping. It was previously amended to allocate a portion of the local share of funding to develop The Hop. Under state law, TIF districts can be used to fund public infrastructure improvements within a half mile of the district boundaries. State law requires districts to close within 27 years.
“Each summer residents from all across Milwaukee come to Cathedral Square to enjoy Jazz in the Park and Bastille Days, which makes this an improvement that all Milwaukeeans can enjoy for decades to come,” said Reid in 2020.
A community meeting was held in December 2020.
The park is owned by Milwaukee County Parks, but the improvements are almost entirely taking place in the city-owned right of way on the edge of the park. The interior of the park will remain unchanged.
Milwaukee County replaced the playground in the park in 2019. The nonprofit Cathedral Square Friends privately raised $40,000 for hanging flower baskets in the park over the past four years. The all-volunteer friends group was founded in 2015.
The project is required to comply with all city contracting requirements for hiring designated Small Business Enterprises.
Improvements to the park, particularly its perimeter, were recommended in the 2010 Downtown Plan and it is now one of the last unexecuted projects from that plan. An effort is underway to update the plan, with Milwaukee Downtown contributing $100,000 to its development.
Improvements to the interior of the park, including restoring the disused fountain, could occur in future years, but would require a finalized plan, community outreach, funding and approval from Milwaukee County.