Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County To Seek Historic Designation for Domes

Board wants National Register of Historic Places listing. A first step toward saving Domes?

By - Sep 28th, 2022 05:27 pm
The Domes. Photo by Dave Reid.

The Domes. Photo by Dave Reid.

Milwaukee County will pursue a listing on the National Register of Historic Places for the Mitchell Park Domes.

Supervisors Juan Miguel Martinez, Dyango Zerpa and Ryan Clancy sponsored a resolution calling on the Milwaukee County Parks to work with the county’s Office of Corporation Counsel to pursue historic registration. The county board recently passed that resolution on a 16 to 2 vote, with only supervisors Deanna Alexander and Tony Staskunas voting no.

The domes were designed by a local architect, Donald Grieb, and built in 1959. They replaced a 19th century Victorian horticultural conservatory.

Listing on the national register is an honorific designation, and does not carry with it any legal protections the way local historic designation would. Listing on the national register would, however, open the possibility of pursuing historic tax credits in the future. Though, the amount of tax credits available through historic designation don’t come close to the price tag for the full rehabilitation of the Domes.

Sup. Martinez, who represents the area, released a statement following the board’s vote, saying, “Getting the Mitchell Parks Domes a historic designation is a long time coming, It breaks my heart to see the state of disrepair this beloved Milwaukee institution is in. We need a plan to turn this around, and this plan should begin with the Domes being put on the National and State Register of Historic Places.”

Jeremy Ebersole, executive director of the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, has noted that there isn’t much work that needs doing to apply for national historic registration. In 2019, as part of the work performed by Arts Market LLC for a plan to restore and redevelop the domes and Mitchell Park, the county paid a contractor to work on a historic designation application – and it’s almost complete, he said.

At a meeting of the county board’s Committee on Parks and Culture, Martinez explained that he was trying to prod the county to take some action on the domes.

Nearly a decade ago, concrete chips began falling from the structure, prompting questions about their long-term structural viability. In 2016 a task force was convened to study ways to repair and maintain the domes for the future, with the caveat that the county didn’t actually have the money to fix them. The task force consultant Arts Market put together a complicated plan that was recently determined to be infeasible as a whole, according to an analysis by accounting firm Baker Tilly and law firm Husch Blackwell, but some pieces of it could be actionable.

The county’s efforts to find a path forward for the domes has become a saga filled with consultants and studies and reports. Advocates and policymakers alike have begun calling for a concrete plan.

Attorney Bill Lynch, who chaired the domes task force, recently told the parks committee, “Studies of studies are only studies. They don’t result in any efforts to find out whether there are partners who would work with the county to develop the park and the domes.”

This is part of the reasoning behind the push for historic designation offered by Martinez, who told the committee that taking a simple, concrete step could begin to bring “donors out of the woodwork.”

Martinez and other supervisors discussed potential legislation calling on the parks department and County Executive David Crowley’s administration to develop a once-and-for-all plan that the county can follow for the domes. That legislation is expected to come before the board before the end of the year.

Categories: MKE County, Parks, Weekly

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