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Domes Report Released: From demolition to replacement to restoration, costs range from $6M to $91M
See the initial details of the report here, before today's meeting of the County's Committee on Parks and Culture.
The Recombobulation Area is a ten-time Milwaukee Press Club award-winning weekly opinion column and online publication written, edited and published by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.
The long-awaited report on the future of the Mitchell Park Domes has finally arrived.
The report will be presented and discussed today at a meeting of the Milwaukee County Board’s Parks and Culture Committee. Details and agenda for that meeting, along with links to livestream the meeting once it begins, can be found here.
In advance of the meeting, Sheldon Wasserman, the committee chair and board supervisor representing the County’s 3rd District, said in a press release, “I strongly believe that the future of the Domes must be decided in the near future. We cannot and should not continue to kick the can down the road on this important issue. After this report is received, a decision must be made that prioritizes the long-term future of the entire park.”
This is not the first time that in-depth studies have been conducted on the long-term future of the Mitchell Park Domes. After incidents where concrete and debris was falling from the roof caused the Domes to close in 2016, a report later that year from Graef outlined options for repairing or replacing the horticultural conservatory, ranging in costs from $14 million to $70 million.
But long-term action was never ultimately taken on the future of this aging Milwaukee landmark. Now, County leaders want to get to a final decision. The Domes, along with Mitchell Park, are owned and operated by Milwaukee County and Milwaukee County Parks, which face significant budget constraints.
The new report, prepared by the Concord Group, lays the groundwork for the coming conversation over whether to demolish, repair, or replace the Domes. A number of alternatives are being presented. They are:
Alternative 1: Demolish the Domes with Defined Limits
Construction cost estimate: $4.8 million
Project feasibility cost estimate: $6.4 million
Alternative 2: Repair All 3 Domes
Construction cost estimate: $21.7 million
Project feasibility cost estimate: $29.1 million
Alternative 3: Restore all 3 Domes and Common Areas
Construction cost estimate: $67.1 million
Project feasibility cost estimate: $91.1 million
Alternative 4: Restore One Dome (Tropical Dome), Build New Conservancy/Event Center, and New Entry Courtyard
Construction cost estimate: $49.7 million
Project feasibility cost estimate: $64.7 million
Also listed as an additional “alternative” for “garden area improvements” for the cafe, wedding and event gardens, with a total project feasibility cost estimate of $4.7 million.
Each of the options for maintaining the Domes, too, come with estimates for projected costs over the next 20 years. The “Alternative 2” plan is the highest of those, at $30.1 million, with the two options to restore roughly expected to cost between $10 million and $12 million.
The Mitchell Park Domes are operated by Milwaukee County Parks, which, due to budget constraints from the state and elsewhere, has roughly the same budget now as it did in 1989. The parks department is facing a deferred maintenance backlog of around $500 million, and there are now about 1,000 fewer parks workers employed now than there were 30 years ago.
The Domes, constructed in the 1960’s, have been in varying states of disrepair over the last decade, with the County installing a wire mesh netting system in 2015 and 2021. Details from the presentation show the Domes have been operating at a loss for the past four years.
You can see the full report on the County’s website here.
A powerpoint presentation made public on that website details much of what’s going to be presented to the County Board later this morning. See that here, and see the visuals for the various options below.
Finally, see the side-by-side breakdown here…
…and an additional pro and con list here.
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Dan Shafer is a journalist from Milwaukee who writes and publishes The Recombobulation Area. He’s also written for The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Heartland Signal, Belt Magazine, WisPolitics, and Milwaukee Record. He previously worked at Seattle Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine, and BizTimes Milwaukee. He’s won 17 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards. He’s on Twitter at @DanRShafer.
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