Graham Kilmer
MKE County

Highland Park To Become Harley Park

The Harley-Davidson Foundation offers $350,000 for park improvements and 10 years of maintenance.

By - Apr 13th, 2023 02:14 pm

Highland Park. Photo by Graham Kilmer.

The Harley-Davidson Foundation is planning to invest approximately $350,000 in a Milwaukee County park adjacent to its corporate campus in exchange for changing the name to Harley Park. The announcement comes as Harley-Davidson prepares to build a large, privately-owned park on its campus.

The motorcycle company is interested in the 3.4-acre Highland Park, 3800 W. Highland Blvd., sandwiched between its campus and that of Molson-Coors. The Milwaukee County Board’s Committee on Finance considered an offer Thursday from the company’s foundation to provide the Milwaukee County Parks Foundation $250,000 for improvements and another $100,000 for maintenance over the next decade.

The funding would be a gift. The park would continue to be owned and controlled by Milwaukee County. “Basically, everything would remain status quo, except for the name of the park and the improvements that would be coming,” said Jim Tarantino, deputy parks director.

The name Highland Park does not appear to have any historical significance, Tarantino said. The department researched the name and believes it comes from either the road it sits on or the unbuilt “Highland Subdivision.”

The park is adjacent to several surface parking lots which Harley is planning to redevelop into a large community park and event space called “The Hub.” The funding gift from Harley is intended to revitalize Highland Park so that it is consistent with The Hub, 3700 W. Juneau Ave. Milwaukee County Parks is working with Harley to design future improvements, Tarantino said. For example, the Harley-Davidson Foundation is planning to develop play structures at The Hub, so the county does not want to duplicate that, he said, adding that the nearest regional park, Washington Park, has three recently improved playgrounds.

The improvements at Highland Park could include “cleanup of the forested area, invasive species removal, construction of a shade structure such as a picnic shelter for community gathering, and improvements to pathways and lighting,” according to a report by the parks department.

April Gianeselli, vice president of the Harley-Davidson Foundation, told supervisors that The Hub will be made open and available to the community like a public park.

The County Board’s Finance Committee unanimously approved accepting the donation and changing the park’s name. The proposal will next go to the full county board for final approval.

Highland Park’s location, in the middle of two corporate campuses, separates it from the surrounding residential neighborhoods. And while nearby residents visit the park, many of the visitors are employees of the two companies. Because of this, Parks has been working with the neighbors and the companies in recent years to plan improvements to the park, Tarantino said.

In 2022, the oldest playground in the parks system was removed from Highland Park and funding was included in the 2023 budget for outdoor exercise equipment.

Guy Smith, Director of Milwaukee County Parks, said the donation from Harley is “a great opportunity to expand our partnership with Harley-Davidson and the Harley-Davidson Foundation.” He noted that the company’s foundation had funded improvements in Washington Park and holds volunteerism events in the parks system.

“This investment in the community is sorely needed,” said Sup. Peter Burgelis, who represents the area. “And the ability for Milwaukee County to partner and utilize our resources and receive a gift to improve them just compounds the benefit to the neighborhood.”

Burgelis held a community meeting on the project earlier this month. He told his colleagues that the attendees were overwhelmingly in favor of the proposal.

The board has, in the past, considered proposals that lease public parkland to private non-profits, like the Urban Ecology Center, and the question of how to maintain the public nature of a park under such a deal has been part of those discussions. Some supervisors noted that they were hesitant to name a park for a private corporation, but felt that Harley’s history in Milwaukee made it a unique candidate for such a naming. Additionally, they noted that maintaining public ownership and control of the park under the deal helped them overcome this concern.

Sup. Sequanna Taylor was one of these supervisors. She said she ultimately supported the project because it protected public ownership and because Harley is a “pillar” of the community, adding, “When you think about Milwaukee, you do think about Harley-Davidson.”

“This is kind of unique, you know, because of who it’s being named, or what it’s being named,” said Sup. Steve Taylor. “But I don’t think we ever can frown upon donations, even when there are some strings attached as long as it remains public.”

The Hub Renderings

Harley-Davidson Campus Photos

Categories: MKE County, Parks, Weekly

3 thoughts on “MKE County: Highland Park To Become Harley Park”

  1. gerrybroderick says:

    This wrongheaded “renaming” of a public park for a corporate entity, no matter how historically significant that business may be, is nothing less than the sale of corporate naming rights to publicly owned parkland. What next? Association Of Commerce Park? Bradley Foundation Park?

    Our tax dollars are already regularly used to build multi-million dollar facilities like our baseball stadium so that (given the approval of a second mortgage) we can take our kids to AmFam Field to enjoy an afternoon of $9.00 beers and $6.75 hotdogs, (not to mention $15 t0 $25 parking), while the less financially advantaged members of our community have the opportunity to recreate in a poorly maintained local park soon to be named for various investment opportunities.

    Isn’t it time to put a greater share of our public purse to purposes that benefit the public’s quality of life? And to stop selling our civic pride to the highest bidders? Our park system has always been free and accessible to all. Let’s keep it that way by investing our resources in their improvement and naming them for those individuals whose values they represent.

  2. gerrybroderick says:

    Just another addition to the Republican playbook titled: “Magical Thinking As A Guide To Policy Formulation.”

  3. ZeeManMke says:

    gerrybroderick is right. The politicians here are just looking to stuff cash in their pockets. The “public good” is not on their minds. What else would account for inviting the democracy-destroying, black-hating, gun-loving Rethuglicans here?

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