The O’Donnell Park garage should be razed and replaced by a new Milwaukee Public Museum and parking structure, according to philanthropist Michael Cudahy.
“O’Donnell Park is a piece of garbage, and it’s been trouble ever since it’s been built,” Cudahy said. “It was a terrible idea in the first place to have O’Donnell Park blocking the view and clobbering the lakefront.”
The project would cost $30 million to $50 million, Cudahy said. He said he would contribute an unspecified amount only if other donors come up with some cash.
Cudahy will make his case Tuesday to the Parks, Energy and Environment Committee of the Milwaukee County Board.
But it could take years to raise the money for such a project, and the county meanwhile can’t afford to keep the O’Donnell parking structure closed, said Theo Lipscomb, Milwaukee County supervisor and member of the parks committee.
The structure has been closed since June 24 when a 13 1/2-ton decorative concrete panel fell on Jared Kellner, killing the 15-year-old Greenfield boy as he headed toward Summerfest. The garage is not scheduled to open until July following $6.6 million in repairs.
Lipscomb said the county will lose $1.3 million in parking revenue while the garage is closed.
Failing to make those repairs while waiting to move on a proposal such as Cudahy’s would cost the county more money and limit options for surrounding businesses and events, Lipscomb said.
“I’m certainly open to hearing any ideas, but any solution has to accommodate the demands of those other users,” he said. “Now going forward, we can start talking about what this site may be, but we can’t put anything on hold.”
It is not likely the repairs will be complete in time for next year’s summer festival season, Cudahy said. Even if O’Donnell Park were reopened in time, Cudahy said, it is not where he would recommend family and friends park.
“There’s an incredible amount of work needed to make it safe,” he said, “and I donít think it’d be safe even if it was finished.”
Cudahy’s is not the first proposal to move the Milwaukee Public Museum to the lakefront, said Jim Schmitt, Milwaukee County supervisor and museum board director. But museum leaders plan to dedicate more money to the building at 800 W. Wells St. next to the Milwaukee County Courthouse rather than invest in a new site, he said.
“I’ve heard about the location there and, well, if there’s enough big donors with big money that want to finance something like that, I’d never say never,” Schmitt said. “But I say we save the museum as is.”
The county has allocated $1.5 million to repair the stone facade on the west side of the current museum this year, said Jack Takarian, the county director of public works.
“As long as we own the building,” he said, “we have to take care of it.”
Cudahy acknowledged it could take years to raise the money, but, he said, that’s no reason not to try.
“You have to create a fever about it,” he said, “but I think the citizens of Milwaukee would get on the bandwagon if it were a spectacular new museum project. I’m talking about one that’s a pacesetter.”
Cudahy’s role in the Discovery World project and other philanthropic work in Milwaukee earns him the right to propose the museum idea to the board, Lipscomb said. The parks committee will be receptive to whatever plans Cudahy proposes Tuesday, Lipscomb said.
But, he said, the county can’t afford to pitch in any more than it already has toward the Milwaukee Public Museum.
“We’re in no position to subsidize a cultural district,” Lipscomb said. “We have a hard enough time keeping up with the payments we already make to various museums.”
It is always a matter of money, Cudahy said, but this project should go beyond financial considerations.
“Here we sit on the lakefront, next to the biggest collection of fresh water in the world,” he said. “It’s a hell of an asset, and it makes me furious we don’t take advantage of that.”