Rather than fight what could be a losing battle, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee should explore other location options for its new school, according to one Milwaukee County supervisor.
Proponents of parks and open spaces will fight the plan to build a UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences on the site of the vacant Pieces of Eight restaurant at the lakefront in Milwaukee, said Milwaukee County Supervisor Gerry Broderick. He recommended the university avoid the debate over preserving the land as green space, saying it should instead consider other options, including buying or leasing the nearby Downtown Transit Center, which the county owns.
But Julia Taylor, president of the Greater Milwaukee Committee, argued the restaurant location is preferable. The committee is working with the Milwaukee Water Council, which would be a tenant in the proposed building.
The Pieces of Eight site, at Michigan Street and Lincoln Memorial Drive, is a prominent location offering more possibility to create a landmark building to cement Milwaukee’s status as a hub of water research and technology, Taylor said.
“We want to have our best front door out there, so to speak,” she said. “It also has to be a site that inspires people.”
Renovating the Downtown Transit Center would create some hurdles for the county, Taylor said. Since the building was constructed using a federal transit grant, the county would have to repay the money if it uses the building for something other than buses, she said. Also, the county would need to find a new place to park buses downtown.
But Broderick said the school will face opposition if it targets the restaurant property. The university needs state approval to build on the site because it is a publicly owned lakeside property that must be held in public trust, he said.
“Just on its face, this thing would be flying in the face of the public trust doctrine,” he said, “and would be subject to court tests at every turn.”
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, after reviewing preliminary plans for the project earlier this year, said it has a good chance of satisfying the public trust regulations for the site, Taylor said. The DNR, in a February letter, wrote that the proposed building design and use as a university building would probably be allowed. However, the DNR also said the building space dedicated to the Milwaukee Water Council, a private organization, must be kept on the smaller side.
The UW-Milwaukee, Taylor and other supporters of the project will present their plans to the Milwaukee Board of Harbor Commissioners on Friday morning.
“This is the beginning of the process,” Taylor said, “and there will be a lot of public input on it.”