I was blessed to have an opinion piece recently published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel regarding the issues surrounding a new arena in Milwaukee. In it I discussed some of the roadblocks to “regional cooperation” from the perspective of residents outside the City of Milwaukee.
As expected, what I actually wrote made little difference. Reading the comments was like listening in on a playground argument. Most posters decided I “hate the city of Milwaukee” because I am a “racist” (or something like that), that I want Milwaukee to disappear, and that I should “just stay in Waukesha”.
One Purple Wisconsin author actually somehow concluded that I proposed the new Arena be built in Waukesha (which I did not and do not believe makes any sense, nor did I even propose).
For the record, I don’t hate Milwaukee. I chose not to live there, but I don’t want it to fail either. I think the arena belongs somewhere “in the city”, not out in the sticks.
My position on locating the arena is rooted in a careful understanding of proven “urban renewal” efforts elsewhere. While Milwaukee is not New York, it does share some of the same problems New York once had in the pre-Giuliani days. Crime rates are high (relative to the surrounding areas, at least), which deters people from coming into the city for recreational purposes. The fears are not universal, to be sure, but they are real and pervasive. Tax rates are also generally higher than in suburban alternatives, which further drives away potential residents.
Those who live in the city may see such opinions as ridiculous and dismiss them, but they do so at their own peril. It is generally unwise to ignore the concerns of people you hope to have as customers, be it in business or in urban affairs. You may not agree with the fears, but you must at least acknowledge them and address them without derisive dismissal.
Shouting “racist” at anyone who dares express a view other than positive about your city will not make people want to patronize it. In fact, it only deepens the divide and reinforces their desire to stay away.
Giuliani’s master stroke was to accept the criticisms as having some validity and take them on directly. The NYPD was empowered to make the streets a safe place and welcoming for people not accustomed to the city. He encouraged development in areas that were proven to viable already (i.e. Times Square, 34th St., etc) and placed special focus on them from a public safety perspective.
New York can also be looked to for other lessons in so-called “urban renewal”. Many new attractions in New York are placed in already vibrant areas, creating critical mass in those locations. Rather than put a new attraction in a location with little going on in it, they cluster developments and create what are almost cities within the city.
There are entertainment districts (i.e. Broadway), residential areas (the upper west side), business areas (Wall St. and the financial district) and retail areas (Times Square, 34th st and 5th Ave). These areas become magnets for additional related development, and as as long as they are viewed as safe, magnets for non-city residents to visit and patronize. I found New York fun, easy to navigate, and felt very safe in my time there. The NYPD was seemingly everywhere, very engaging and friendly, and my wife and I felt comfortable walking all over the city.
Barrett, on the other hand, seems to want to only develop in areas with nothing going on. His desire to locate an arena “downtown” reflects this. He wants an arena on its own to transform an entire area with its mere existence. The Bradley Center is living, undeniable proof that this will not work. The BC never led to any sustained development, even when an entire corridor 2 blocks away was leveled to the ground. The Park East corridor remains largely vacant to this day because it was placed in a location with little else attracting visitors, and one many people regard (rightly or wrongly) as “less safe” than other parts of the city.
I proposed placing the new arena in the Valley on Canal St. in my op-ed with an eye to what New York does so well – clustered, related development in areas already showing some signs of life, perceived as safe and attracting visitors from the outside.
I believe Canal St. (which for all those who think I hate Milwaukee is still within the city limits of “Barretland”) is a potential jackpot (pun intended).
Here are just a few reasons I think Canal St. is a more than viable option to consider.
1. Locating on Canal St. would only be done with it a financial contribution from the Potawatomi, greatly reducing the need for any public funds for the arena itself. The Potawatomi stand to benefit greatly from such a location. Their new hotel would be the likely choice for out of town teams, media and fans, producing gaming, dining and lodging revenue to their business. This simultaneously removes the biggest roadblock to the Hard Rock Casino in Kenosha, allowing it to proceed as well. The Potawatomi Casino would have a draw that competes with the Hard Rock brand and helps offset any losses to a new competitor. This creates development in the city AND the suburbs (HEY – actual regional cooperation for once!!!).
2. Canal St. is book-ended by unique Milwaukee attractions (especially for out of state visitors). On the east end is the Harley Davidson Museum and Hotel. On the west end is Miller Park, a one of a kind world class stadium and an engineering marvel. Placing another distinctive venue between them capitalizes on the draw of these proven attractions, moving closer critical mass. It also runs along the Menominee River and the Hank Aaron State Trail, which could be very picturesque if developed.
3. To the immediate south of Canal St. is Mitchell Park and the Domes, another unique Milwaukee attraction. There is a rail yard presently between Canal St. and the park, but those rail lines could be covered and development or expanded green space could connect the park and Canal St. (Think O’Donnell Park only useful and productive.) This opens the near south side of the city to development similar to what occurred on 43rd St. following Miller Park’s construction. This revitalizes a potentially beautiful and historic residential area and encourages commercial development nearby.
4. There are ample developable locations along Canal St. that could host a variety of entertainment options. Bars, restaurants and hotels could be built in what is now empty or light manufacturing space. This will certainly not happen overnight, but the potential for profit will likely draw investment in the area as New York has shown. There will be relocation of some businesses required, but that is not necessarily bad or impossible. One can even imagine incentives given to companies in the Valley to relocate in other industrial areas of Milwaukee, creating critical mass in multiple locations with distinct purposes.
5. The Canal St. location also alleviates fears of many non-city residents. The Valley is a less intimidating location for people not accustomed to the feel of the city center. It is also much easier to police and keep “safe”. An MPD substation (like the one in Times Square in NYC) would be a great addition and all but eliminate fears of crime for visitors.
6. Canal St. is also far more accessible for non-city residents than Juneau Ave. is, with far more potential parking very near by. Canal St. can be accessed via Hwy 41/Miller Park Way, 25th St via I-94, 13th St. via I 94, as well as 16th St and 6th St. via surface streets. These access points are distributed along Canal St. and offer options from within and outside the city. For those in Milwaukee already, there is easy access on surface streets, while those from the suburbs can use multiple interstate exits to access the area. Juneau Ave., by comparison, is much more difficult to access for those from outside the city who are not as familiar with the city or uncomfortable in urban centers in a vehicle. In fact, the Potawatomi Casino is already frequented by many of the same people who generally shy away from “downtown” right now for this very simple reason.
7. There is the potential in the longer term to unite the Third Ward, the Summerfest Grounds and the Valley along the river. Imagine the potential for those areas if they grew together. Milwaukee would be a very desirable location for people seeking an urban lifestyle with a “safe” feel and nearby attractions and entertainment. This corridor would run from Lake Michigan to the east all the way to Miller Park in the west, with most of it within several blocks of water (the river or the lake). It could be stunning, really, and unique in all the world.
8. This is probably my least favorite reason to look to the Valley, but since Tom Barrett is bound and determined to have a trolley someplace before he hangs it up, let me offer that a trolley that runs the length of Canal St. would actually make a lot of sense and make the area even more developable. For visitors, Canal St. becomes a “park once, see it all” location. The trolley would allow easy and rapid movement from venue to venue, and requires a lot less development money to achieve. It would not interfere with existing traffic patterns, relocation of utilities, and remove needed parking. For once, a train would make economic sense in Milwaukee. It might even need to be expand outside Canal St. into the Third Ward or up 27th St., if consumers demand it.
These are just the major reasons to consider strongly a location on Canal St. and I am sure more can and will be identified.
And for the record, this Waukesha resident is actually advocating for a MILWAUKEE location for the new arena.
If the Valley and Canal St. was the chosen location you might find many suburbanites far more willing to support regional participation (especially those in Kenosha benefiting from the Hard Rock development), so long as their opinions and perspectives are not just dismissed by Barrett and his minions, and the money contributed is proportionate to the level of oversight given.
Which is why none of this will ever probably happen. I cannot ever imagine Barrett and his ilk having anything but contempt towards the municipalities that surround “his” city. It’s always his way or the highway.
Using the Amway Center (B) in Orlando, FL as a stand in, here are some potential locations for a new arena in Milwaukee on Canal St.
(Map Source: Google Maps: Link)