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What to do with O’Donnell Park?

By Joe Lanane

Proposals to demolish O’Donnell Park came and went last year.

Milwaukee County officials initially praised the suggestion to redevelop the valuable lakefront property, but once budget season came, the focus instead shifted toward $6.6 million repair plans.

Then, out of nowhere late last week, millionaire philanthropist Michael Cudahy suggested the county tear down the parking structure, and a redevelopment proposal is reborn.

The O'Donnell Park parking garage on Milwaukee's lakefront has been closed since June 24 when a concrete panel fell off the structure, killing Jared Kellner. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Unfortunately for Cudahy, his idea likely came too late to raze O’Donnell Park in favor of a new Milwaukee Public Museum. Design engineers are already hired and construction bids will shortly follow.

The idea has at least sparked the same enthusiasm county board members once displayed for redeveloping the property. If there is an idea that makes Milwaukee’s lakefront more attractive, then it should be considered.

There are, however, some limitations to the property. County Supervisor Gerry Broderick, who chairs the county’s parks committee that reviewed Cudahy’s proposal Tuesday, cautioned against the public trust doctrine that limits that land to public use.

But Cudahy said Friday he has experience dealing with the public trust doctrine during his efforts to build Discovery World along the lakefront.

Even if private development is possible, market concerns could limit how much risk investors are willing to take on the property.

That leaves Cudahy’s museum proposal.

He suggested Tuesday that more than $1 billion of philanthropic money is available in Milwaukee — it’s just a matter of getting those philanthropists to open their wallets.

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Joe Lanane is a staff writer at The Daily Reporter. His ideas for O’Donnell include a hot dog stand and a new Kellner Park.

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