Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Demolition Starts For New Public Museum

$240 million Milwaukee Public Museum facility to be built at 6th and McKinley, where building being razed housed Urban Milwaukee's first office.

By - Jun 7th, 2022 11:43 am
1340 N. 6th St. Demolition. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

1340 N. 6th St. Demolition. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

As the clock struck 9:00 a.m. Tuesday an excavator sprung to life and ripped away part of the metal facade on the one-story building at 1340 N. 6th St.

It’s the first publicly visible step in the process to open a new, $240 million Milwaukee Public Museum at this site in 2026.

“A lot remains to be done,” said MPM vice president of planning Katie Sanders in an interview with Urban Milwaukee. The other two buildings that make up the 2.4-acre future museum site at the northeast corner of N. 6th St. and W. McKinley Ave. won’t be demolished until 2023 because they have tenants currently.

Environmental remediation work, backed by a $250,000 state grant, will also need to occur.

A groundbreaking for the new, 200,000-square-foot museum complex is expected to take place late next year.

The design of the building is being modified to reflect that the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum will no longer be a tenant. The organization announced in April it wouldn’t lease space from MPM in the new facility. As a result, Sanders said the design team is reconfiguring the proposal to remove 30,000 feet of space. “We expect architectural renderings later this summer,” said Sanders.

MPM, which will be renamed as part of the move, is still in the “quiet” phase of its $150 million fundraising campaign. Sanders said $85 million of the expected $90 million contribution from public entities has been secured, including $45 million from Milwaukee County and $40 million from the state. MPM hopes to also secure a federal grant to finalize the public contribution. The project cost includes moving the existing collections as well as building an endowment.

The new building will contain exhibit space, visitor services, a cafe and retail store, underground parking, collections research and storage, classrooms, an auditorium, event venue space, offices, a small workshop for exhibit maintenance and back-of-house spaces. The current museum, 800 W. Wells St., will continue to operate until the new museum opens.

And while MPM continues to fundraise and finalize the design with designers from Kahler Slater, Ennead Architects and Thinc Design, a crew from Robinson Brothers Environmental will continue to smash the 31,956-square-foot building.

Built in 1969, the building originally housed Standard Lamp Lighting Center. “Visit the Lighting Center and see the most complete line of residential and commercial lighting styles in Wisconsin including floor, table and swag labs in every style,” says a promotional postcard.

More recently, the eastern portion of the building was used by First Stage as a theater costume and prop shop. A warehouse space with high ceilings, it was the first to be demolished.

The western portion of the building, which housed the lighting showroom, has been vacant since 2009 following a substantial roof leaf and subsequent flood. At the time it was home to Bucketworks, an incubator that housed, among other tenants, the first office for Urban Milwaukee. Yes, we’ve grown a bit since then.

An affiliate of the museum paid $3.08 million to an entity owned by James T. Barry III for the one-acre property.

Two smaller buildings need to be demolished on adjoining properties. MPM acquired them last year.

The 21,392-square-foot-property at 1310-1312 N. 6th St. was acquired from Daniel Druml for $2.5 million. The 26,151-square-foot property at 520 W. McKinley Ave., home to the Bartolotta Restaurant Group and owned by Jennifer Bartolotta., was acquired for $2.5 million. At the time of acquisition, the three properties had a combined assessed value of $3,085,600.

The Milwaukee Common Council will need to approve an alley vacation, a largely procedural move, to allow MPM to unify the properties into a single site.

MPM has been pursuing the new facility for more than five years. Its current facility, built in the 1960s, is “falling apart” according to the museum, including a leaking roof and bursting pipes.

“Many parts of the building, including the 1960s escalators and elevators — which are not adequately sized to handle current visitor demand for modern-day strollers and personal mobility devices — break down and are costly and difficult to repair,” says the organization’s new museum page. “The structure itself was originally constructed without insulation or moisture barriers, resulting in decades of humidity and temperature control issues that jeopardize the collections and result in significant utilities expenses.”

The current natural history museum has been threatened with losing its accreditation because of the condition of the facility and the risk it poses to the four-million item collection.


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