Jeramey Jannene

See Harley-Davidson’s New $20 Million Park

New park represents transformation, recommitment to historic HQ says CEO.

By - Jun 24th, 2024 02:36 pm
Davidson Park. Photos by Jeramey Jannene.

Davidson Park. Photos by Jeramey Jannene.

Harley-Davidson CEO Jochen Zeitz cut the orange ribbon to formally open the motorcycle company’s new park Monday morning, welcoming in a new era in the 121-year-old company’s history.

Davidson Park was created by turning underutilized employee parking lots along W. Highland Avenue into a publicly accessible park, with the goal of better connecting the company with the surrounding community and motorcycle riders.

It also represents the first step in the company’s re-commitment to maintaining its 121-year-old campus on the site where founders William Harley and Arthur Davidson built their first motorcycle. Additional changes to the building complex, 3700 W. Juneau Ave., will include a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) education lab, a permanent home for the company’s racing team and the relocation of the company’s LiveWire electric motorcycle arm. [Ed: See our coverage]

“A lot has changed in 120 years, but there’s one thing that hasn’t and won’t change ever, and that is Juneau Avenue is our home,” said Zeitz while Mayor Cavalier Johnson, members of the Davidson family including Willie G. Davidson, Near West Side Partners leader Lindsey St. Arnold Bell and dozens of company employees looked on. “We could not be more proud to be part of the Near West Side and to be part of the community here in Milwaukee.”

The $20 million park’s central feature, The Hub, is a sunken space that can be used for motorcycle-centric events or any number of public events. A circular pathway with many levels spirals down to the central stage path. Brick pads, sporting one of 24 unique designs, line the pathway and serve as parking spaces for motorcycles. Stairways cut through the concentric rings, offering direct access for pedestrians and extra seating in addition to that built into the sides of the bluffs.

At the top of The Hub, a lighted walkway, dubbed “Main Street,” divides the The Hub from W. Highland Avenue. It’s been designed to host farmer’s markets and other events. A shipping-container bar, 1903 Tavern, is located along the walkway, as are spaces for several other mobile vendors. A linear kids playground with a natural theme parallels the wide path. Seating is interspersed throughout.

A 10-foot-tall weathered steel sculpture of the company’s logo serves as a gateway to the park.

The project, said Zeitz and Harley-Davidson chief human resources officer and foundation president Tori Termaat, came in on time and under budget. The first point is especially critical, the company is scheduled to hold its second-annual Homecoming ceremony in late July.

More than 100 employees continue to work out of the campus each day, and more are expected to as part of future phases announced Monday. Zeitz, in an interview, said the company maintains a hybrid work environment where employees work at the facility “based on necessity” and at home as comfortable. “We keep a flexible budget, but always make sure that we do come together for those projects and collaborative initiatives where everyone needs to be in the room,” said the New Mexico-based CEO.

Park Design

Using the parking lots for a park was one of several items identified during a three-day visioning session the company conducted in 2021 with community stakeholders and other partners. Zeitz credits The B Team, a nonprofit executive leadership group he cofounded with Richard Branson, as helping establish and execute the “Appreciative Inquiry Summit.”

“We are so excited to be able to celebrate Davidson Park today as a new cornerstone to our connection to our community,” said Zeitz.

The park was designed by London-based Heatherwick Studio, renown in the United States for designing Little Island in New York City. Heatherwick, said Zeitz, was the first and only designer the company pursued to create the space.

“As a designer, the biggest honor is to work on something for the public,” said firm principal Thomas Heatherwick.

The Harley site presented an unusual challenge for the firm.

“I don’t think that we had ever seen that many car parks that big,” said Heatherwick of the 4.8 acres of parking lots that occupied the site up until a year ago. “Giant piece of tarmac.”

The firm, said the architect, set about to create a design that was “people first, but occasionally, maybe once a month, could have a bike life.”

The use of the circle is no mistake. It’s visually embedded within the motorcycles produced on the site starting in 1903. It’s also something embedded in human nature. “There is something really powerful about the circle,” said Heatherwick.

Heatherwick, giving away a trick of the trade, said the renderings depict the space with large trees. He said he was pleased with how the design turned out, even with smaller, newly-planted trees, and looks forward to it getting “better and better” as the trees grow and mature.

He also praised Greenfire Management Services for constructing the park to a high standard and the partnership with HGA, which served as the architect and engineer of record. The Forest County Potawatomi Community‘s involvement didn’t stop at providing the general contractor. Community members also informed the design of the serenity space atop The Hub and led a drum circle that opened Monday’s ribbon cutting.

Students from Milwaukee Public Schools‘ nearby Story School designed the motorcycle parking spots. Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design student Megan Huss, who has since graduated and joined Barthell Digital, won a design competition to create a central emblem in The Hub. Both include symbols and images of Milwaukee.

Zeitz previously hired Heatherwick to design the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa in Cape Town, South Africa. Prior to becoming Harley-Davidson CEO, Zeitz, who is German, founded the art museum and set about building a collection of African art. The building opened in 2017.

The Park Next Door

The park is bookended by Harley Park, the longtime Highland Park that is part of the Milwaukee County Parks system. Harley, in 2023, secured a name change in exchange for a $350,000 contribution and a 10-year maintenance agreement for the 3.4-acre greenspace. Overgrown trees or shrubs have been pruned or removed to better expose the Harley buildings located immediately north of it.

How and When To Visit

Davidson Park, according to a sign posted at the property, is open daily from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. unless otherwise posted.

Organizations looking to use Davidson Park for an event are encouraged to contact the company via the Davidson Park webpage. NEWaukee has been hired to assist with park events.

The first publicly-listed event is H-D Homecoming Rev Up on July 25 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Near West Fest, a 10-year anniversary for Near West Side Partners, is scheduled to occur on Sept. 13 from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

How is Harley judging success? “It’s being used as much as possible, not just by riders, but visitors,” said Zeitz. “It’s a multipurpose park that hopefully attracts a lot of people.”


Ribbon Cutting

Renderings and Little Island Photos

2022 Site Photos

Sample Map

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Categories: Parks, Real Estate

2 thoughts on “See Harley-Davidson’s New $20 Million Park”

  1. Counselor of Peace Joel Paplham says:

    New Era for Harley Davidson, nothing similar to TS Era Tour, lol Just another failure of Mayor Cavalier Johnson to negotiate and fight to keep jobs and a great company in Milwaukee. Another example ” Milwaukee a horrible city. “

  2. Counselor of Peace Joel Paplham says:

    The beautiful park can now be next year’s location for Juneteenth Day. Hopefully a new location will bring peace to the neighborhood.

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