Graham Kilmer
MKE County

County Wants Your Ideas for Charles Allis and Villa Terrace’s Future

County looking for 'creative ideas' for East Side museums.

By - May 31st, 2024 12:30 pm

Charles Allis Art Museum (top) Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum (bottom).

Milwaukee County has officially launched a public call for creative ideas for the long-term operations of the Charles Allis and Villa Terrace museums.

With difficult financial decisions ahead, and many years of budget cuts already behind them, Milwaukee County Supervisors have begun questioning whether the county can continue to provide funding for the operations and maintenance of the two museums.

The board passed an amendment to the 2024 county budget directing administration staff to evaluate options for the county to divest itself of the two cultural institutions. A report returned to the board in May contemplating several options for the museums moving forward, ranging from maintaining the status quo to selling.

In the report, staff from the Department of Administration‘s (DAS) Economic Development Division, suggested the county conduct a formal “request for information” to solicit ideas from the public for running the institutions without county support. This was the preferred next step among members of the county administration, according to the report drafted by Erica Goblet, a DAS project manager.

“If that should fail and [the nonprofit operating the museums] is not interested in obtaining the buildings, then the recommended option would be sale of the buildings,” the report states.

Charles Allis Villa Terrace, Inc. (CAVT) has operated both museums on behalf of the county since 2012. The chair of the CAVT board, Claudia Egan, and Executive Director Jaymee Harvey Willms both told Urban Milwaukee they support the idea to open up the county to ideas from the public.

“We want to find the best, highest use to sustain and maintain the museums, and that could involve a lot of things and other partners,” Egan told Urban Milwaukee when the report came out.

The county recently released the request for information seeking “creative solutions from potential parties… interested in operating, using, and/or developing” the museums. The solutions can include new ideas for operating, using or adaptive reuse of the museums, the latter would mean changing the current use of the buildings.

“Respondents that are nonprofits are encouraged to submit responses that include transfer of one or both buildings from the County to the nonprofit,” a document for potential respondents states. “Transfer will only be considered to nonprofit entities at this time. For-profit companies are encouraged to apply, but it is expected that the County will enter into a triple net lease with the for-profit entity.”

The county would ideally like to transfer ownership of the buildings to CAVT, but the nonprofit has been hesitant to assume the full financial responsibility for the museums — certainly not without major funding or a long term feasibility plan for the institutions.

The information gathered from this effort will be used to inform future decisions about the museums, and whether the county will need to open up a competitive bid for any future projects or ownership of the buildings.

Both museums were originally built as homes for prominent families in Milwaukee history, and later gifted to local government to hold in trust for the public.

The museums operate on a combined annual budget of approximately $822,000, with $225,108 coming from the county. Officials estimate that the two museums will need approximately $18 million in maintenance the next 18 years. Since 2007, the county has budgeted for a total of approximately $2.04 million in maintenance at the buildings.

The county has a long list of infrastructure needs, with an estimated $1 billion catalog of deferred maintenance. While the new 0.4% sales tax has staved off unprecedented cuts to county services, next year’s budget is already shaping up to be difficult.

Even if the status quo is maintained, it will likely mean the two museums scrape by with inadequate maintenance funding.

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4 thoughts on “MKE County: County Wants Your Ideas for Charles Allis and Villa Terrace’s Future”

  1. Marty Ellenbecker says:

    Regarding deferred maintenance –
    Is it legal to charge past officials for robbing
    Peter’s descendants to pay Paul?

  2. AttyDanAdams says:

    Let’s creatively sell them to the highest bidder. County taxpayers don’t need to support wedding venues.

  3. Marty Ellenbecker says:


  4. Colin says:

    Agree w/ Dan

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