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Milwaukee Public Museum halfway through demolition as crews tear down building for new museum

By: Ethan Duran//May 3, 2023//

Milwaukee Public Museum halfway through demolition as crews tear down building for new museum

By: Ethan Duran//May 3, 2023//

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The Milwaukee Public Museum (MPM) on Monday announced it would demolish a building at 1310 N. 6th Street, part of the demolition process to knock down existing buildings near North 6th Street and West McKinley Avenue to make way for a new $240 million museum. The existing museum located at 800 W. Wells Street will remain open throughout the construction of the new museum, which is expected to be completed in 2026, according to museum officials. It’s not clear yet what Milwaukee County, the owner of the current building, will do with the facility when the new museum is finished.

Museum officials said contractors were halfway through the demolition process as of Monday afternoon. Contractors demolished a single-story parcel located at 1340 N. 6th Street last year and it will take a month to knock down 1310 N. 6th Street. A third building, a Bartolotta Restaurants’ office located at 520 W. McKinley Avenue, will be the last building destroyed to free up space for the new museum.

Crews on Monday used a bobcat to knock down interior walls at 1310 N. 6th Street. The building was previously home to HVAC distributor Gustave A. Larson and the Milwaukee Auto Spa.

The museum plans to build a new 200,000-square-foot, six-story museum at North 6th and West Vliet Streets, leaving its home at 800 W. Wells Street. Construction work is expected to start in 2023 and officials added it would wrap up in 2026. MPM will work with New York-based Thinc Design, Mortenson, ALLCON and Milwaukee-based Emem Group to complete the new museum and its exhibits.

MPM will build a plaza on the northwestern end of the site and a parking structure in the northeastern portion, MPM Chief Planning Officer Katie Sanders said at a news conference.

“We’re at the middle phase of demolition. We started demolition last year with the parcel on the north end of the site and taking down this building next. It should take a month to demolish this building,” Sanders said.

Demolition work was done by Lannon-based Rams Contracting, Ltd. while Milwaukee-based Emem Group provided site development services, Sanders added.

The demolition process is the predecessor of the future museum, and Emem Group will do critical work to get the site ready for new construction later in 2023, President and CEO Michael Emem told The Daily Reporter.

“It’s a tremendous opportunity and a blessing to work on a project of this size and a project that brings high cultural value to the community. This is definitely a legacy project and a once-in-a-lifetime lifetime opportunity. I’m beyond elated to work for the museum developing this asset that will be here for generations to come,” Emem said.

The developers had planned the demolition process since December of 2022, Emem added. Emem Group managed crews who disconnected utilities, conducted environmental testing and performed abatement work. The company will manage site entitlements such as zoning changes and permitting process, Emem said.

While Rams tears down, Mortenson and ALLCON will build up. Sanders added the new museum will be complete in late 2026 or early 2027.

In a preview exhibit of the new museum, officials wrote MPM’s current building can no longer serve the community after doing so for generations. The museum was built in the early 1960’s.

“While the MPM’s current building – owned and maintained by Milwaukee County – has served it well for generations, it no longer can: Ceiling leaks, burst pipes and poor conditions threaten priceless collections; deferred maintenance needs exceed $100 million; and without a new building, it will become one of the largest museums in the nation to lose accreditation – meaning it could no longer host traveling exhibitions, loan or borrow collections or receive certain federal grants. In short, the current building threatens MPM’s existence and risks bringing down Wisconsin’s most-visited museum,” according to MPM officials.

On top of deferred maintenance costs, Milwaukee County Director of Department of Administrative Services Aaron Hertzberg said a host of factors including overall operating costs, potential to modernize the museum and the efficiency of the current building weighed on the decision for MPM to move to a new building. The current museum has had problems with deferred maintenance for a “significant period of time,” he added.

The deferred maintenance amount didn’t factor in overall operating costs and modernization, he added. Milwaukee County owns the current building and is responsible for capital investment, while MPM operates the museum and upholds standards of maintenance, Hertzberg said.

“We at the end of the day own all the assets of the museum and work with MPM to operate and display them as artifacts to the community and provide education. It’s important we provide a facility, or a facility is provided to the community that does that in an effective way, certainly if there are major issues with the facility we’re currently at, that’s a major concern,” Hertzberg added.

MPM has a fundraising goal of $150 million in private support and anticipates $90 million in government funding, according to the Museum website. As of publication, museum officials reported they raised $128 million from donations. In early March, museum officials added those donations included $2.5 million from Julia and David V. Uihlein, $2.5 million from the We Energies Foundation and $1.5 million from the Northwestern Mutual Foundation.

Construction of the new museum will cost a total of $240 million, which includes funds for the purchase of land, relocating collections, exhibits and a $25 million endowment to make sure the Museum Center is sustainable into the future, MPM officials said. A spokesperson for the museum noted relocation of collections is factored into the project cost estimate and won’t have an additional cost for taxpayers.

Gov. Tony Evers and the Wisconsin State Legislature approved $40 million in bonded funds for the new museum in the 2021-23 state budget, MPM officials noted. The bonds are set aside for capital projects and won’t impact the state’s operating budget, officials added.

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley and the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors in March of 2022 approved $45 million to fund construction of the new Museum and fulfilled its conditions for re-accreditation to the American Alliance of Musuems, museum officials said.

When asked what will happen to the existing museum building when the future museum is built, Hertzberg said the future of the existing building was still a “work in progress.”

“We are evaluating lots of options associated with that. The City of Milwaukee recently unveiled their downtown plan and as part of that, we looked at redesigning around that area of downtown. We’re taking all that into consideration as we start to have the conversation about what the existing building will be going forward,” he added.

While Milwaukee County owns the artifacts on display and partners with the Public Museum, the County will reduce its annual dollar commitment from around $3.5 million to $1 million per year, Hertzberg said. The County will transfer responsibility for the current building, including capital costs, to the Museum operating group, he added.

The museum will announce its final two proposed galleries in May: The “Living in a Dynamic World” gallery will debut on May 9, while “Rainforest,” and “Puelicher Butterfly Vivarium” will be revealed on May 23, museum officials said.

The Bartolotta Management Group has a long-term lease at 520 W. McKinley Avenue and has never owned the location, a spokesperson for Bartolotta told The Daily Reporter.

“We fully support the plans for the new Museum and have been actively looking for a new location, while working diligently with the Milwaukee Public Museum towards relocating our support offices,” the spokesperson added.

The City of Milwaukee released its downtown plan for 2040, which included a ‘catalytic’ project to redevelop the former Milwaukee Public Museum site. The city aims to build high-density, mixed-use development with mixed income housing and ground-floor commerce, according to the plan.

Ennead Architects and Kahler Slater will be the lead architects and MC Group will serve as the Owner’s Representative, officials added.


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