Jeramey Jannene

City Seeking Grant For Streetcar Convention Center Extension

$33 million project could receive boost with $25 million in federal funds.

By - Jul 15th, 2022 11:33 am
Vel R. Phillips Plaza rendering. Rendering by TKWA UrbanLab.

Vel R. Phillips Plaza rendering. Rendering by TKWA UrbanLab.

The City of Milwaukee is again vying for federal funds to extend The Hop streetcar system to the Wisconsin Center.

The extension would add a stop to the western end of the main streetcar line, connecting the system to the convention center, The Avenue, HUB640, the new Milwaukee Tool office building and other Westown amenities. It would also better link the convention center and its $420 million expansion with the rest of downtown.

The extension would run north from W. St. Paul Ave. on N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. and N. 5th St., looping through the city-owned surface parking at N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. and W. Wisconsin Ave. A separate, but related plan calls for a portion of that lot to be redeveloped as Vel R. Phillips Plaza and the remainder as a site for a marquee building by a private developer.

The Department of Public Works is seeking a $25 million grant to support the $33 million extension. It’s the fourth time DPW has submitted a bid through the competitively-awarded Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity grant program for the project. It used to be called the TIGER grant program.

“The project is all capital costs, including guideway and track elements, stations, sitework and special conditions, systems and professional services,” said DPW in a statement.

The city would fund the remaining $8 million from the “4th and Wisconsin” Hilton Hotel tax incremental financing district.

“The City of Milwaukee is actively working to make the Vel R. Philips Avenue Streetcar Extension a reality. Through leveraging existing TIF investments for streetcar expansion efforts, the city will continue seeking out federal funding opportunities for this critical transportation infrastructure project, including through the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and our pending RAISE grant application to extend The Hop up to Wisconsin Avenue,” said a city spokesperson in a statement.

An announcement is expected to come next month if the city wins the grant. But project proponents and opponents have both publicly mused in recent years that the city’s performance with a 2015 TIGER grant might be holding back the city’s chances of winning.

The city was awarded $14.2 million in 2015 to extend the then-proposed streetcar system to the lakefront via E. Michigan St. and E. Clybourn St. The transit-oriented development of The Couture, with a station in its base, was a key factor in the city’s application and was touted by federal officials when they came to Milwaukee to announce the grant.

But the tower, first proposed in 2012, has been repeatedly delayed. For years that didn’t impact the similarly-delayed streetcar, but by 2018 the timelines started to diverge. The city completed the system, including one-way lines on Michigan and Clybourn, but couldn’t open the lakefront extension alongside the rest of the system in November. Construction started on The Couture, but further delays were encountered. An act of Congress was ultimately required to keep the city’s grant funds alive. The lakefront line is now expected to open in fall 2023.

A future northern extension, for which the city has already engaged in planning and preliminary engineering, would run to Fiserv Forum and ultimately the system could be extended north along N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. to W. North Ave.

The city unveiled plans for Phillips Plaza in 2019 as part of a strategy to extend the streetcar both further north to Bronzeville and south to Walker’s Point. But those plans were held in the council, then the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

DPW and outside partners have worked to advance engineering and design work on the Wisconsin Avenue extension and Fiserv Forum (Highland Ave.) extensions. The design plan for the Wisconsin Avenue project is 80% completed and the Highland Avenue project has reached 30%. The city spent $3.3 million from the 4th and Wisconsin TIF district (#39) and Spectrum/Manpower TIF district (#41) to advance that work.

As it is reaching the end of its state-allowed life, the Spectrum/Manpower TIF district was recently amended to remove any future streetcar spending in favor of traffic calming and affordable housing programs.

Is there a little luck in Milwaukee’s future? The city submitted the latest grant request on Milwaukee Day, April 14.


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More about the Milwaukee Streetcar

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