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Future of Mitchell Park Domes: Supervisors consider referendum among options

The future of the Mitchell Park Domes remains uncertain as supervisors meet to discuss how to fix the aging building.
The Mitchell Park Domes
Posted at 6:45 AM, Sep 13, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-13 13:40:51-04

MILWAUKEE — The future of the Mitchell Park Domes remains uncertain as supervisors meet to discuss how to fix the aging building.

On Tuesday, the Milwaukee County Committee on Parks and Culture met to discuss what to do with the Domes. While supervisors did not vote on a solution, it became clear they narrowed down potential solutions to four:

  1. Demolish the Domes except the green house, which would cost between $4,778,881 and $6,408,230
  2. Repair the broken parts of the Domes, including replacing 700 broken panels of glass and making upgrades to concrete and mechanical systems, which would cost between $21,720,595 to $29,085,569
  3. Rebuild the three Domes, costing between $67,149,432 and $91,150,095
  4. Build a brand-new conservatory and rebuild the tropical Dome. That would include a 40,000-square-foot facility, a new wedding garden, new courtyard, café and new outdoor gardens. This option costs between $64,791,561 and $69,442,663.

The chair of the parks committee, Supervisor Sheldon A. Wasserman, suggested making a binding referendum to decide the Domes' future. That would put the decision in the hands of Milwaukee County voters.

The Domes suffered from safety concerns due to the aging building, less staff and other resources due to financial constraints, and declining visitors.

Milwaukee County could run out of property tax money to fund the county parks service as soon as 2027, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley previously warned.

Milwaukee County Parks are facing a financial crisis

Here's a pretty stark example — the operating budget for Milwaukee County Parks has not grown in 30 years. In fact, it's projected to keep shrinking and by 2027 local dollars for local priorities are projected to dry up.

Staffing is one thing, but infrastructure needs add another piece to the puzzle. "We're at about $500 million in deferred maintenance," explained Guy Smith, the Executive Director of Milwaukee County Parks, in a story last year. "That's just the parks department alone, that's not Milwaukee County as a whole."

Milwaukee's Domes need about $60 million worth of work, and fixing lakefront erosion from Bayview Park to South Shore is another expensive item on the to-do list.

By law, tax dollars have to first go to state-mandated services and the parks department is not in that category.

The revenue primarily comes from golf courses, beer gardens, and McKinley Marina. So, why not lean into that? The money could never shore up the gap. And county leaders agree that focusing only on revenue-rich areas will not support amenities that each part of the community needs and deserves.

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