The stretch of waterfront land that repels people on Milwaukee’s south side could attract the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Freshwater Sciences project.
But there’s a reason people avoid the land east of First Street along Greenfield Avenue, and it likely will cost a lot of money for construction work to make that reason go away.
“That is what is going to be the difficult part,” said state Rep. Pedro Colon, D-Milwaukee, who represents the area. “And, as always, the devil is in the details, and I think the details of this case are going to involve all levels of government, federal, maybe stimulus funds, some involvement from the state.”
Colon said the land on Milwaukee’s inner harbor is one of the most neglected areas of the city. But the property’s status as the front-runner for the UW-Milwaukee project could breathe new life into the area.
The land is near the Great Lakes Water Institute, but the area’s industrial past presents a challenge. The land includes a coal pile for the Valley Power Plant and, nearby, the vacant, 46-acre former home of Solvay Coke & Gas and the vacant former Grede Foundry.
The blight in the area must be dealt with before UWM moves in, Colon said. He said costs are unknown because, until recently, the lakefront property with the former Pieces of Eight restaurant was the favored location for the UWM school.
“That’s what we’re trying to define,” Colon said. “Unfortunately, I think what happened is we wasted a lot of time focusing on the lakefront.”
The coal pile on a 13-acre property across Greenfield Avenue from the water institute will have to go, said Tom Luljak, the UW-Milwaukee’s vice chancellor for public affairs. As the university explores whether the area will work, UW-Milwaukee also is considering road improvements and utility upgrades, he said.
“Certainly, making sure that the surrounding environment is in a condition that serves as a suitable home for our academic facility, clearly there are some challenges that exist on the site,” Luljak said. “But we don’t think that any of those challenges are insurmountable.”
Colon said it will take state, federal and probably city money to pay for the improvements around the institute site. But he said the south side is due for an infusion of cash after all of the money spent on development in the Menomonee Valley and proposals for the former Tower Automotive site on the city’s northwest side.
Val Klump, director of the Great Lakes Water Institute, said the redevelopment challenges could present opportunities. Klump, who is involved in planning the UWM water school, said combining the school and water institute would open the door for developing a business park for water research companies.
“Everyone would like to see the inner harbor area spruced up,” he said, “and converted to more than it is now.”