The central segment of the RiverWalk is called the Downtown segment. This segment of the RiverWalk is a mix of residential and commercial surroundings and spans from approximately Juneau Avenue to I-794 freeway.
Even before the City’s Riverwalk Initiative was formalized, limited project specific activity was underway along the River frontage concentrated in the downtown. Financed through a partnership between the property owner, the Greater Milwaukee Committee and the City of Milwaukee, the very first segment of Riverwalk was constructed adjacent to the Gimbels Department Store (currently Borders Bookstore) in 1985. At the time of construction, a Riverwalk Civics Committee was moving plans forward for a small park and boat landing at the foot of East Mason Street, a Riverwalk along the east side of the Milwaukee Center (Theater District), the Performing Arts Center and along Pere Marquette Park.
By the time the Riverwalk Initiative was formalized in 1993, various Riverwalk segments had already been constructed to link the Riverside Theater, the Pabst Theater, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, the Grand Avenue Shopping Center, the Performing Arts Center, and the Water Street/Old World Third Street nightlife area.
Specific segments completed by this time include: Milwaukee Center, 100 East Wisconsin Avenue, Riverfront Plaza The Performing Arts Center, Pere Marquette Park, Gimbels (Currently Planet Fitness), Michigan Avenue to Clybourn Avenue (Home to Milwaukee River Boat Company), Bank One.
As riverwalk development continued in the downtown, property owners in collaboration with the City formed a Business Improvement District (BID) for the purpose of constructing and maintaining downtown riverwalks. Approved by Council in March 1994, the district encompasses the portion of the Milwaukee River corridor which runs through Milwaukee’s downtown. The objective of BID No. 15 is to complete improvements along the river that will increase public access to the Milwaukee River and promote, attract, stimulate and revitalize commerce and industry within the City. The constructed improvements within the district are adjacent to many of Milwaukee’s major entertainment and recreational sites as well as numerous retail and dining establishments.
The BID No. 15 and the City share the costs of Riverwalk construction and other Riverwalk capital expenditures in accordance with the terms of a Development Agreement. Property owners with a riverwalk constructed on their river frontage are solely responsible for maintaining such riverwalks to a standard acceptable to the City and the Board. If a property owner fails to maintain its riverwalk, either the city or BID No. 15 may perform any necessary work on such riverwalk and the cost therefore shall be specially assessed directly against such property owner.
Construction of Riverwalks within the Downtown Section must follow the Milwaukee River Design Guidelines.