Mayor Says Think Big When It Comes To VA Grounds
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Oct. 11, 2005
||Paul Vornholt, Mayor's Office
MAYOR SAYS 'THINK BIG' WHEN IT COMES TO VA GROUNDS
Proposal To Include America's Freedom Center, Research Park
Milwaukee, WI -- Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said today he wants the City of Milwaukee to plan for the future of the Veterans Administration grounds to showcase the area's historic past and to maximize the potential for future economic growth of the area.
Barrett's comments respond to a plan announced by the U.S. Veterans Administration to dispose of about 37 acres of the Clement Zablocki Medical Center grounds, commonly referred to as 'the VA grounds.' The property has been used to assist veterans since President Abraham Lincoln established the National Asylum of Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in 1865 to serve Civil War veterans. The grounds include 25 historic structures dating back to the 1860s, an active hospital and the Wood National Cemetery, a 50-acre site with more than 37,400 buried there.
Mayor Barrett said the City of Milwaukee wants to partner with the U.S. Veterans Administration to create a comprehensive plan for more than 100 acres of the property, including large portions of the site now used for surface parking. City planners envision a mix of uses that directly connect to the mission of the VA and create employment opportunities.
"The redevelopment of this historic campus presents a rare opportunity for Milwaukee," said Mayor Tom Barrett. "We can restore, reuse and breathe new life into the historic buildings and at the same time attract high-quality jobs through development that fosters collaboration with the VA hospital and area universities and colleges. I'm eager to involve a variety of voices in refining our vision for the property."
In a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs R. James Nicholson, Mayor Barrett outlined a draft redevelopment plan featuring these key elements:
Development of two major new facilities
America's Freedom Center: a national museum and education center presenting the history of the military conflicts and diplomacies that preserved our freedom as a nation and people, and the stories, memories and achievements of Americans who served their country in war.
A research and office park, constructed in a campus-like setting with the possibiility of creating synergies with existing medical research now underway at the Zablocki Center
Infrastructure improvements that serve the entire campus
A grand boulevard built from National Avenue (the south border of the current Zablocki facility) to America's Freedom Center
A parking structure providing approximately 1200 - 1500 spaces; its location directly east of the main Zablocki hospital will improve parking access for hospital patients, staff and visitors as well as clients of the regional veterans benefits office.
Improved water, sewer and electrical utilities
Preservation, restoration and adaptive re-use of many of the 25 buildings that remain of the original 19th century Soldiers Home, established as an asylum for returning Civil War veterans in 1867 and recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Key buildings include Old Main (built 1869), the Ward Memorial Theatre (1883), the chapel (1889), the Wadsworth Library (1891), the governor's mansion (1868), and the headquarters building (1896).
Alderman Michael Murphy, whose district includes the VA grounds, said that community involvement in the planning process would ensure the new facilities are sited in a manner that is sensitive to the original mission of the grounds.
"Anyone who has walked the VA grounds knows what a historic gem we have right here in the City of Milwaukee," said Alderman Murphy. "With the right plan in place, the grounds will serve as both a teaching tool and as a catalyst for ec onomic development."
Mayor Barrett said he has presented this proposal to officials from the U.S. Veterans Administration and to Wisconsin Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold.
America's Freedom Center Board Chair Tom Bailey said the idea of locating the Center at the VA grounds makes sense.
"Our mission is to give people a more personal experience in learning about the sacrifices great and small made by our common citizens in the name of freedom," said Tom Bailey. "The historic VA grounds shares in this mission and brings it to life."
Department of City Development Commissioner Rocky Marcoux said staff look forward to a continuing discussion with the U.S. Veterans Administration about the Milwaukee VA grounds.