County Board to hold public hearing on Mitchell Park Domes [updated]

The (mostly?) temporary  closure of the Mitchell Park Domes due to safety concerns is old news by now. This is a direct result of the deferred maintenance that has plagued the Milwaukee County Parks System for far too many years now — and I argue deferred maintenance is a direct cause of the tragedy at O’Donnell Park  in 2010. And the issues at the Domes are not at all new. The problems with deteriorating concrete have been known since 2004, and I voted for action on it back in 2013.

MitchellDomes
The Mitchell Park Domes

The Mitchell Park Domes, a popular tourist attraction and point of local pride, are the latest attraction to have been closed by deferred maintenance. This, despite the fact that in July 2015, I and my colleagues on the County Board allocated $5 million from an already-realized budget surplus to directly address deferred maintenance in the Parks, County Executive Abele dismissed this in his veto message [PDF] as  “flippant and irresponsible decision making” by the Board.

In September 2015, we also approved $500,000 specifically for Domes maintenance.

Half a year later, the Domes are closed.

In response to this closure, the County Board is holding a public hearing at the Mitchell Park Domes Greenhouse [map] at 6 PM on Wednesday, February 24th. We want to find out what the people of Milwaukee County want to happen with this cherished institution. According to an email from County Board Chairman Theodore Lipscomb, the hearing agenda lists presentations by the County Executive; the Parks Director; and the Friends of the Domes, and comments by the public.

I’ll do a gentleman’s bet with anyone willing on whether or not the exec will or will not appear, as he repeatedly failed to represent his own department at a series of budget hearings last year.

Update: An e-mail from Abele to Chairman Lipscomb begins, “Thank you for the invitation. I will make sure that someone from my administration will be in attendance to answer the Board’s questions.” That’s a “no.” It is his sixth? seventh? eighth? failure to appear before the public on official business.

Either way, see you on February 24, 2016, at the greenhouse.

A walk through Milwaukee’s history via the Grand Avenue mall

Having worked downtown and explored much of the area between Water Street, 794, and Marquette, I know that West Wisconsin Avenue, the street formerly known as Grand Avenue, has a great amount of potential as a new place for people to shop and enjoy life. The fine blog UrbanMilwaukee.com has taken a good hard look at the Shops of Grand Avenue and dares to imagine what that mall may look like.

Prior to moving back to Milwaukee, the last time I was in Grand Avenue was the spring of 1988. The whole center of the mall was open then, not walled off as it is now, and the first floor shops had not been expanded to fill much of the first floor as the now do. It had more life to it then. From what I understand, a bad sort of life once inhabited the mall, necessitating the changes to the structure and flow, but I fear they may have only further dampened it. (Right-wing talk radio also did its share, convincing all the suburbanite listeners not to go somewhere they probably wouldn’t have anyway.)

Labelscar: The Retail History Blog has an interesting account of the mall’s history, a welcomely different take from what I had to say. While I would not think that I would find a blog about retail stores interesting, Labelscar is actually a really good read.  And it turns out that one of the blog’s authors is both University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate andan employee of the State of Wisconsin. (Hi from Milwaukee, Ross!)

Looking back in history, the area once was a part of the Alexander Mitchell estate.  He’s not the Mitchell who General Mitchell International Airport is named after — that’s his grandson, Gen. Wm. “Billy” Mitchell, a hero of the First World War, and also the man considered in many regards to be the father of the concept of the modern air force, and the very same Billy Mitchell who was court-martialed and found guilty of insubordination in 1926.

Alexander Mitchell was one of Milwaukee’s original big boys, a railroad tycoon with a sense for grandeur of the highest form, building a lush horticultural conservatory, which existed a full century before the Mitchell Park Domes existed. (They are named for Alexander, not Bobby Mitchell.) The magnificent but now under-appreciated Mitchell Building that Alexander Mitchell built still stands on the corner of East Michigan Street in downtown Milwaukee, on the spot that once was the site of Milwaukee co-founder Solomon Juneau’s second home. (Credit for that last detail and the history of teh Mitchell Family must go to Milwaukee’s fine historian John Gurda, and his treasure of a book The Making of Milwaukee.)

I give a final tip of the hat to UrbanMilwaukee.com for inspiring this post. With the help of people such as the folks at UrbanMilwaukee.com, we’ll have lot a more interesting history to write about in the decades to come.