An overflow of ideas for lakefront on near South Side
Harbor District plan touches on waterfront, housing, other amenities

By DAVE FIDLIN - Special to the Post

April 30, 2017

Plans for the Milwaukee Harbor District on the city’s South Side have been unveiled by the nonprofit Harbor District Inc.
Submitted rendering

MILWAUKEE — Enhancing riverfront water access, restoring wetlands and, yes, maintaining industrial buildings are in the mix of the Milwaukee Harbor District’s just-unveiled plans for the city’s near South Side.

A renewed effort between Milwaukee municipal officials and a number of civic and nonprofit organizations has sparked a broad-brushed planning effort aimed at bringing new development to underused land in the city’s harbor area, which is roughly bound by South First Street, the Milwaukee and Kinnickinnic rivers and the lake’s coastline.

This week, representatives of Harbor District Inc., the nonprofit group overseeing the conceptual planning, unveiled a series of preliminary land use recommendations at a pair of informational meetings.

The land use recommendations are the outgrowth of feedback gleaned from a series of feedback meetings six months ago and a subsequent survey.

Lilith Fowler, executive director of the Harbor District Inc., said there were several recurring themes that surfaced in last fall’s information-gathering efforts.

“People are looking for more recreational space,” Fowler said during an open house question-and-answer session Tuesday at the Independence First facility on South First Street, not far from the core area under scrutiny.

Enhancing access to the waterways within the Harbor District is outlined in the plan. One specific project, Take Me to the River, calls for a new public plaza space at the end of Greenfield Avenue. A boat launch could also be part of this specific project.

Harbor District Inc. held a design competition last fall. The winning entry was showcased at this week’s information meeting.

Dan Adams, planning director at Harbor District Inc., said Take Me to the River has fueled interest in an area that has long been under the radar.

“The goal is to start raising funds for this next year,” Adams said.

While some of Harbor District Inc.’s conceptual plans for the site are a complete overhaul from the current use, the organization’s recommendations do include the region’s vast history as a significant manufacturing hub.

The plan calls for a mix of commercial uses near the lower Kinnickinnic River, including a variety of light industrial businesses in an area where the former Horny Goat Hideaway and an operating restaurant wholesale building are located.

Housing also is included in the document, and that specific component is already coming to fruition. The four-story, 76-unit Freshwater Plaza apartment complex opened in November near South 1st Street and East Greenfield Avenue.   

Additionally, Harbor District Inc.’s proposal calls on a wetland restoration project near a grain elevator business at 960 E. Bay St. Several concerns about this pinpointed area have been raised, including poor soil conditions.

Harbor District Inc.’s public presentations are part of an ongoing effort to refine the group’s recommendations. Nearby residents and other persons are invited to take an online survey, available at www.harbordistrict.org, and offer feedback on the latest sets of plans.

“We’re going to continue refining and revising the plan,” Fowler said.

For now, all of the recommendations are conceptual.

In an effort to give them more teeth, Fowler said Harbor District Inc. plans to bring them before the Common Council this fall as a guiding document for future land use decisions and policy issues specific to the area.

Even if local government does back the plans, however, Fowler is quick to point out they could take years to implement because much of the land is privately owned.

“But we’re trying to do whatever we can to get the ball rolling,” she said. “Piece by piece, this can start to come together.”

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