Graham Kilmer
MKE County

New Domes Policy Gets First Approval

Supervisors soften language but still include possibility of demolishing domes.

By - Dec 7th, 2022 11:09 am
The Domes. Photo by Dave Reid.

The Domes. Photo by Dave Reid.

A new policy for the Mitchell Park Domes received its first approval Tuesday from a committee of the Milwaukee County Board, but not before supervisors made some minor changes.

Supervisors softened the language on the proposed new policy, but maintained the operative sections that, as Urban Milwaukee previously reported, changes the board’s official position on the domes for the first time since one was adopted in 2016.

The domes have been in a state of disrepair for a decade, and despite a number of studies and a years-long task force, the county does not have an actionable plan for structures built in 1959.

The new policy directs the county to evaluate demolishing the Domes and allows the board to consider such an analysis when making a decision about what to do. This is a materially different position than the one adopted six years ago that made it the board’s official policy to seek the “repair and preservation” of the domes. That policy did not include any possibility of considering demolition.

The new policy was sponsored by Sup. Sheldon Wasserman and co-sponsored by seven other supervisors, after the parks committee reviewed several proposals related to the domes over the past year, and responded to the fact that none of them laid out a concrete path toward realizing the “repair and preservation” of the domes.

The board’s Committee on Parks and Culture Tuesday amended the resolution with this new policy Tuesday, changing it to say the policy “expands” rather than “rescinds” the 2016 domes policy. “We do not want to rescind the policy,” said Wasserman, chair of the parks committee. “We want to expand the policy.”

The new policy directs the county administration to evaluate three possible futures for the domes including demolition, full repair of the buildings and a proposal for a “New Urban Botanical Park and Conservatory.”

The last possibility is a reference to a 2019 plan developed by a consultant as part of the work of the Domes Task Force assembled in 2016 — that was recently determined to be unfeasible by the accounting firm Baker Tilly and law firm Husch Blackwell.

The amendment adopted by the committee also includes a new section that states, “while this resolution would expand the policy position adopted in [2016], this resolution does not advocate for, suggest, or show preference for one potential option over another and any decision regarding final action on the Domes will be made by the County Board of Supervisors at a future meeting.”

Sup. Juan Miguel Martinez authored another amendment to the resolution, but it was not taken up by the committee as it contained reference to estimated costs for demolishing the domes that are several years old. Martinez said he planned to introduce another amendment at the full board meeting to clarify “that doing nothing is tantamount to demolition by neglect.”

In a statement following the meeting, Martinez, who represents the domes in his supervisory district, said that demolition is not an option, but that members of the board wanted cost estimates for demolition studied. “As the county residents begin to gain understanding of the costs associated with destroying the domes, transferring the plant collection, and rebuilding the site of the building, I am confident that public opinion will continue to trend toward saving this Milwaukee icon,” Martinez said.

Bill Lynch, an advocate for preservation of the domes and former chairman of the Domes Task Force, told the committee, “I am a bit concerned that the language of the resolution now does not give quite as much direction as it should to assure that the information that you get is what you need.”

Specifically, Lynch noted that the review of the Arts Market plan from 2019 should specifically ask for new data based on the ideas in that plan. “I’m afraid that if you aren’t more specific in terms of what you asked for, you’ll get studies of studies again, instead of new updated financial information,” he said.

Jeremy Ebersole, executive director of the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, offered similar comments to the committee asking them to hold off voting on the item for at least another month, or adding further amendments prior to consideration by the full board, “in order to provide the means necessary for the board to receive what we think is the full breadth of information necessary to make the most informed decision about the future of what is really one of the region’s most beloved landmarks.” Specifically, Ebersole said a contractor with experience working on older buildings should be involved in the planning process.

Categories: MKE County, Weekly

2 thoughts on “MKE County: New Domes Policy Gets First Approval”

  1. nickzales says:

    Madness, total madness! The Domes are a Milwaukee icon. Mitchell Park is in serious need. It seems like a no-brainer. If the County can come up with $200 million to hand over like Santa Claus to the billionaire owners of the Bucks, it can fix the Domes.

    It seems like any project downtown gets full funding but away from downtown and it’s “we can’t afford it.” That kind of thinking needs to change.

  2. frank a schneiger says:

    There is a static quality and failure of imagination that invariably dominates Domes discussions. It is a discussion that will almost certainly lead to demolition down the road. Here are some basic assumptions that decision-makers should test:

    1) A restored Domes, effectively marketed and managed, and part of an overall restoration of Mitchell Park can be a major, revenue generating, destination on level with the Calatrava museum.
    2) The County does not – and will not – have the dollar resources to undertake this initiative. Nor does it have the marketing or management capacity to make a restored Domes a destination.
    3) The current decision-making process, essentially one of kicking the can down the road will lead to demolition at some point, producing a huge missed, one-time opportunity and a dead space in the park. Once gone, gone forever.
    4) There is a clear alternative, one which addresses every barrier to long-term success and would produce a major destination for Milwaukeeans and visitors. It is a Conservancy model, a partnership between County Parks and an entity that will raise the large amounts of money needed, market and manage the facility on behalf of the people of Milwaukee. And, as mentioned in an earlier comment, there is a template for success,.It is New York’s Central Park Conservancy, an entity that brought back from near death and decay an empty and dangerous park and made it the world’s pre-eminent urban park, with more than 40 million visitors a year, a major contributor the economy of every surrounding neighborhood.
    5) Not wanting to be repetitious, but once it’s gone, it’s gone. Milwaukee’s corporate, philanthropic, and other communities should explore the possibility, create an entity and partner with the County to create the new Domes. “If you build it, they will come.”

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