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County task force signs off on $66M plan to overhaul Milwaukee domes

The Milwaukee Public Museum and the Milwaukee Domes could share Mitchell Park under a plan that the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors agreed on Thursday to study. The public museum is looking for sites in the city for a possible new building, one that could cost as much as $100 million. The domes, meanwhile, are in need of as much as $95 million worth of repairs. (Photo by Kevin Harnack)

The Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee would receive a $66 million rehab under a plan approved by a county task force on Tuesday. (Photo by Kevin Harnack)

A Milwaukee County task force on Tuesday signed off on a $66 million plan to overhaul the crumbling Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, keeping its well-known domes intact and adding a host of new attractions.

The county’s Mitchell Park Domes Task Force voted unanimously, with one abstention, to send a consultant’s plan for the park to a county board committee for further consideration. The plan for the property, developed by the Bozeman, Montana-based firm ArtsMarket, calls for a public-private partnership to pay for a rehab of the property as Milwaukee County stares down a backlog of infrastructure projects that researchers estimate could cost $400 million to deal with in the next four years.

The report recommends raising $13.5 million worth of private money for the overhaul of the domes, and paying for the most expensive part of the project, expected to cost about $39 million, using federal offerings such as Opportunity Zone incentives and historic tax credits. Milwaukee County would then kick in $13.5 million.

The consultant has acknowledged that carrying out such a plan will be “challenging.” County officials, though, have long been reluctant to borrow and are unlikely to be willing to cover the full cost of  the needed rehab on their own. The report also notes that some donors may have some “skepticism” about the county’s commitment to transforming Mitchell Park.

If renovated according to the consultant’s plans, Mitchell Park would become a center for urban ecology, research and workforce development. It would also have attractions such as a farm-to-table restaurant, a wedding venue and a children’s garden. The report also recommends working with colleges and hospitals such as the Medical College of Wisconsin on a research arm of the park.

The consultant recommends carrying the plan out over 10 years. Once renovated, the domes would cost about $5 million a year to maintain.

In a statement, County Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb praised the work of the task force but stopped short of  weighing in on the consultant’s findings.

“I greatly appreciate the commitment of the Task Force members who have sacrificed their time in service to the public, and am eager to review their recommendations,” Lipscomb said. “I remain interested in restoring the Domes and enhancing their value for Milwaukee County residents and visitors.”

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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