A sea of possibilities
Planning for Harbor District’s future coming to a close; city to begin reviews next month

By DAVE FIDLIN - Special to the Post

Dec. 8, 2017

These two renderings show ideas for a proposed Harbor District
redevelopment for the near South Side.
Quorum Ayres

MILWAUKEE — After a nearly two-year planning process, a public-private partnership aimed at breathing new life into Milwaukee’s underused harbor area on the near South Side is in its final stages.

Representatives of the nonprofit Harbor District Inc. and staffers within the City of Milwaukee’s Department of City Development held an open house Monday and took the wraps off the latest sets of plans.

Several hundred people attended the open house, which was held at the new Mitchell Street Library and in close proximity to where much of the planned future development is under consideration.

Milwaukee’s harbor area is roughly bound by South 1st Street, the Milwaukee and Kinnickinnic rivers and the Lake Michigan coastline.

While Harbor District Inc. has spearheaded much of the planning, the city has been an active participant as well and will continue to be in the months ahead as the conceptual details move through several channels at City Hall.

Lilith Fowler, executive director of Harbor District Inc., said she and others within the organization have been pleasantly surprised by the level of interest within the community.

“The stories that people have brought to us, the history they’ve shared, has been really amazing,” Fowler said.

For the most part, the outer shell of the Harbor District’s water and land use plan has remained the same from the get-go. It calls for enhancing riverfront water access, restoring wetlands and, in some instances, maintaining existing industrial buildings in one of the city’s oldest, most established areas.

Fowler said there have been a series of tweaks, particularly most recently as the final draft of the plan was assembled.

Throughout the series of public input sessions, Fowler said there was a recurring theme: Create robust public access areas to the waterways.

“It’s more than we anticipated,” Fowler said. “There was a lot of interest in having fishing space, especially underneath the Port of Milwaukee.”

While the planning process for the Harbor District’s future is winding down, efforts to explore funding options for the area are picking up steam.

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.

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.

At this week’s open house, Fowler and other representatives outlined why they believe the Harbor District project is important to the city’s future.

If all of the elements come together, the redevelopment area will serve a range of purposes, intermingling light industry, commercial retail space, transportation facilities and recreation in one area.

The light industry component is expected to yield 22 jobs per acre, Fowler said, while the goal of the commercial retail sites is to yield up to 75 jobs per acre.

The Port of Milwaukee and Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, which have long been part of the area, are incorporated into the plans, encapsulating about 40 percent of the Harbor District’s total land area.  

The city, which has final say through zoning, will continue soliciting feedback on the plan through Dec. 18. Several city boards and committees will review the document in January before it goes before the Common Council for a final vote in February.

Interested persons can leaf through a 65-page executive summary at www.harbordistrict.org/plan. Public comments specific to the plan can be emailed to the city at comprehensiveplans@milwaukee.gov.

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