Press Release
Press Release

Concerned Milwaukess Urge County Board to Preserve the Public’s Stake in O’Donnell Park

We, the undersigned, oppose the sale of O’Donnell Park to Northwestern Mutual Life.

By - Nov 3rd, 2014 05:57 pm

We, the undersigned, oppose the sale of O’Donnell Park to Northwestern Mutual Life, or to any corporation or private individual.  By definition, parks are held in trust for the public interest.  If this proposed deal closes, Milwaukee County citizens and visitors will lose all rights to this land legacy, not just the structures on it.  The public will have no inherent say in decisions regarding the park’s continued operations or its future designed use.

Regardless of any promises the proposed buyer has made regarding “public access” and concessions to zoning and such, private owners can do what they want with their land, within variable land-use parameters.  Yes, many businesses choose to let the public “enjoy” their private properties to some extent.  However, the only way that the public can retain any stake in the future of O’Donnell Park is if the public holds ownership of the land, as required in long-standing deed restrictions.  Public officials, as well as all citizens, are duty-bound stewards who must honor these exacting covenants, just as executors of an estate must honor its bequests in perpetuity.

O’Donnell Park has been unfairly, and repeatedly, portrayed as a bleak garage with no intrinsic value.  This 9.3-acre lakefront overlook did not become a park by accident.  It was set aside for the common good by far-sighted leaders beginning in 1868.  The short-sighted sale of this multi-purpose park will deprive taxpayers of more than just the current amenities and views O’Donnell provides and the substantial revenue it produces.  It also will rob the public of any future possibilities that visionary civic leaders and philanthropists may have for re-imagining this priceless public land.  For example, downtown Chicago’s dazzling Millennium Park (also built above a parking structure) would never have happened if the land on which it was built had not already been publicly owned.  Public projects that are supplemented by private contributions first require a vested public interest.

If this unprecedented sale is executed, how will citizens ever stave off other schemes to privatize county or city parks?

We urge the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors to reject this ill-advised sale.  Whenever corporations across the U.S. want to help “improve” public parks, they make designated donations for that purpose.  Parks drive economic development and eco-tourism, and increase property values, so supporting them makes fiscal sense to businesses and individuals.  Lease arrangements can be used effectively to ensure that public assets continue to be managed for the public good.  This unnecessary sale of park land is simply an abdication of the public trust.

We Milwaukeean County residents, of all ages, take pride in our magnificent lakefront “emerald necklace.”  We cannot afford to chip away at this legacy through the arbitrary sale of our most valuable gem, the very downtown gateway to our city’s treasured lakefront.



Philip Blank, President, Public Enterprise Committee

Diane Buck, Community Activist and Art Educator

Tony Busalacchi, Past President, Milwaukee School Board; Past President, City of Milwaukee Art Commission; Former Cultural History Educator

Vincent Goldstein, MPS Social Studies Teacher

James Goulee, Former Regional Parks Manager, Milwaukee County Parks

Henry Hamilton III, Esq., Member, Lakefront Development Advisory Commission; Member, Milwaukee County Parks Advisory Commission

William Lynch, Esq., Chairman, Lakefront Development Advisory Commission

Linda Nelson Keane, AIA, Professor of Architecture & Environmental Design, Art Institute of Chicago; Placemaking Board, National Project for Public Spaces

Mark Keane, Architect and Principal, Studio 1032; Professor of Architecture; University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

William F. Kean, Professor Emeritus, Geosciences; University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Cheryl Nenn, Environmentalist

Keith Schmitz, Founding Member and Steering Committee Member; Grassroots North Shore

Peggy Schulz, Writer, Third-generation Milwaukeean; Supporter of Public Infrastructure

Walter Wilson, Fellow of the American Institute of Architects; Retired Principal Architect, Milwaukee County

Anita Zeidler, Ph.D., Urban Education

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One thought on “Concerned Milwaukess Urge County Board to Preserve the Public’s Stake in O’Donnell Park”

  1. Average Joe Citizen says:

    Citizens should not have to fight to keep public parkland public. Don’t sell our future short by selling our park, parkland or our publicly owned garage.

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