Jeramey Jannene

Walker’s Point Will Get New Plaza, Protected Bike Lanes

And upgraded skate park. City plans 11 projects to improve south-side area.

By - May 20th, 2024 06:53 pm
Pierce Street Plaza conceptual plan. Rendering by The Kubala Washatko Architects.

Pierce Street Plaza conceptual plan. Rendering by The Kubala Washatko Architects.

Walker’s Point and the adjoining Walker Square neighborhood would see a new public plaza constructed, two parks refurbished, protected bicycle lanes built out, a skate park upgraded and several streets repaved under a new proposal.

The $7.95 million plan from the Department of City Development (DCD) would harvest incremental tax revenue from the overperforming 6th and National tax incremental financing (TIF) district to fund 11 public infrastructure projects.

“I think this is the biggest list we have ever had for an amendment,” said DCD economic development specialist Dan Casanova in presenting the TIF amendment to the board of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee (RACM) on May 16.

Created in 2015, the district’s incremental revenue has surged to more than $1 million per year thanks to the development and increasing property values along S. 5th Street. The district was originally created to fund the street’s reconstruction, which included a substantial road diet.

Now the tax revenue from that district would fund more public infrastructure improvements in the surrounding area. The plan, said Casanova, was developed in conjunction with area stakeholders, including two community groups and area Alderman and Council President José G. Pérez.

Protected Bike Lanes

As part of Mayor Cavalier Johnson‘s vision of building out a 50-mile network by 2026, new protected bike lanes would be constructed on intersecting streets and connect with a series of planned and existing bicycle amenities.

S. 2nd Street would receive a 0.5-mile protected bike lane from W. Washington Street south to W. Mitchell Street ($1 million). It would intersect with a new protected bike lane on W. Lapham Boulevard between S. 2nd and S. 10th streets ($550,000).

Last year, W. Lapham Boulevard received a plastic-bollard-protected bike lane between S. 6th Street and S. Cesar E. Chavez Drive (16th Street), which significantly reduced vehicle speeds and improved cyclists’ safety.

Washingon Street would receive “all ages and abilities” bicycle-focused improvements ($250,000) between the Kinnickinnic River Trail access point just east of S. 1st Street west to S. 14th St. The long-planned Washington bike boulevard is envisioned to extend west to S. 20th Street, past the half-mile limit for which the TIF district can be tapped.

Walker Square

“The biggest area of focus is just west of the freeway in the Walker Square neighborhood,” said Casanova of the proposal, which still needs Common Council approval.
Between S. 9th and S. 11th streets, W. Mineral and W. Walker streets would be reconstructed ($2.4 million). Traffic calming and bicycle and pedestrian improvements are planned for the streets, which serve as feeders to two Interstate 43/94 ramps.

Intersecting the east-west streets, S. 9th Street would be repaved from between W. National Avenue and W. Lapham Boulevard ($600,000) with similar safety improvements.

The adjoining Walker Square Park, a Milwaukee County Parks property, would receive $750,000 for improvements.

New Plaza, Skate Park Upgrades

A $100,000 allocation would be split between the city-owned Paliafito Eco-Arts Park, 315 W. Walker St., and a new plaza being built along W. Washington Street between S. 5th and S. 6th streets.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is leading the construction of the new plaza as part of its Green Highways program, which previously included improvements at W. Becher Street and under the Marquette Interchange. The city funds would fund public art as part of the latest project.

A portion of the new plaza would be underneath the elevated Interstate 43/94 freeway, while an additional portion would be on a vacant site immediately east of the highway.

Arts @ Large, which manages the park, is actively involved in both projects said Casanova. Its office is located across S. 5th Street from the proposed plaza.

The skate park under Interstate 43/94 at W. National Avenue and S. 8th Street would receive $100,000 for lighting and fencing improvements. Further south at W. Rogers Street, a separate TIF district was tapped late last year to fund a new skate park.

Zocalo Upgrades

A pandemic-inspired street closure would be made virtually permanent as part of the TIF plan.

Much of W. Pierce Street between S. 5th and S. 6th streets was closed in recent years to allow Zocalo Food Park to expand its outdoor seating capacity.

The TIF amendment would allocate $700,000 to build out a true public plaza atop the street. But the legal structure would allow the street to be reopened in the future if desired, said Casanova.

The Kubala Washatko Architects, which has an office on S. 5th Street, has produced conceptual designs for what is described as the “Pierce Street Plaza.”

Other Plans

A total of $500,000 would be set aside to make “neighborhood traffic calming and safety” improvements within a half mile of the district’s boundaries. The eligible area stretches from the southwestern tip of the Historic Third Ward to W. Mitchell Street and the Harbor District to S. 14th Street.

An additional $500,000 would be allocated to make traffic calming and bike and pedestrian safety improvements along S. 5th Street between W. Virginia and W. Washington streets.

The district’s current debt is scheduled to be retired in 2040. But because of the growing revenue stream, the new costs would be repaid in the same time frame. According to a feasibility document attached to the proposed amendment, even after the new spending, the district would still have a $10 million surplus by 2042. Under state law, it must be closed in 2042, its 27th year.

A 2021 amendment to the district allocated $900,000 to safety improvements along S. 6th and W. Mineral streets, $50,000 for a new Bublr Bikes station, $75,000 for administration costs and $250,000 to study streetcar expansion. The streetcar funds remain unspent, according to a late 2023 Department of Public Works presentation.

The project plan also calls for creating a $500,000 contingency fund and placing an additional $500,000 into a restricted fund for the city’s commercial corridor programs. A total of $250,000 would be allocated for TIF administration.

The commercial corridor allocation would fund signage, facade, tenant improvements and other build-out-related expenses for properties within a half-mile of the TIF district’s boundaries. The programs’ grants are commonly awarded on a matching reimbursement basis.

In addition to the TIF spending, several other projects are planned. W. National Avenue is scheduled to be reconstructed and dramatically redesigned starting in 2026. The Kinnickinnic River Trail is scheduled to be upgraded this summer.

The RACM board unanimously endorsed the proposal.


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