Big ideas are afloat for the Harbor District in southern Milwaukee, and the planners want to hear from the public before they put everything together in a water- and land-use proposal.
The effort is being led by non-profit group Harbor District Inc., which was formed in 2015 to think up new uses for the 1,000-acre area centered around the confluence of Milwaukee’s three rivers.
Altogether, the Harbor District has 44,000 linear feet of shoreline. Its walls enclose the Port of Milwaukee, Interstate 794’s Hoan Bridge, Jones Island and UW-Milwaukee’s School of Freshwater Sciences, among other notable landmarks and various neighborhoods.
Once an industrial hub, the district is now largely underused or vacant. The Harbor District group’s redevelopment plans call for the drawing up of new water- and land-use proposals. Its recommendations would have public parks expanded and boaters given more access to the water, residential and commercial buildings added, and modern industrial sites plotted out.
But before moving ahead with those plans, the group wants to consult public opinion. To that end, it held two listening sessions this week, one on Tuesday and the other on Thursday.
Harbor District officials say its not uncommon to hear residents say they want more park space and greater access to the water.
Lilith Fowler, executive director of Harbor District Inc., said no matter what person or community group is talking about the Harbor District, parks are almost always a high priority.
The district area now has 7 acres of parkland and one canoe and kayak launch. District officials are seeking to add more than 70 acres of parks and four launches to those totals.
One idea that’s already been set in motion is the Take Me to the River project, which is meant to build public parks on vacant city-owned land lying at the east end of Greenfield Avenue.
To get an idea of what the area could look like when redeveloped, Harbor District officials recently held a design competition, in which five teams created and submitted ideas. District officials announced in January that the contest winner was a team consisting of Quorum Architects and Ayres Associates.
The Quorum-Ayres plans call for the use of concrete benches, metal art wall, a playground and three boardwalk piers.
The call for more residential and commercial projects, meanwhile, arose in part because Harbor District officials want to repeat the successful redevelopment work they’ve witnessed in other parts of the city, such as the Walker’s Point neighborhood.
A draft version of the water- and land-use plan is likely to be ready by this summer. When that happens, district officials will again organize a series of public meetings.
“We want to make sure what we’re proposing are things that people are actually excited about,” Fowler said.
The plans, once finished, will be submitted to members of the Milwaukee Common Council, who will consider adopting them as part of the city’s larger comprehensive plan.
A proposal most likely will be ready sometime in the early fall, Fowler said. Depending on what the water- and land-use plans include, council members may also need to vote on zoning changes for specific sites and similar matters.
Even further down the road, the district could start on some preliminary work. This might include infrastructure improvements meant to encourage development.
Milwaukee Alderman Mark Borkowski, chairman of the Common Council’s Public Works Committee and a member of the Board of Harbor Commissioners, said that more park space is a good idea, but said the expansions should not be allowed to encroach on land that is better suited for development.
Borkowski said the Port of Milwaukee should not be discounted, even if its business dealings have declined over the years.
“I’m always amazed at the fact that we have this hidden gem,” he said. Follow @alexzank