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Milwaukee Lakefront Gateway Project:
Open Space Development

The larger Lakefront Gateway Project has three (3) main components:

Public Open Spaces, Streets and Highways, and Private Sector Development Sites.

Component - Public Open Spaces

A central goal of the larger project is improved public civic space and high quality pedestrian realm.
The new public spaces must establish a clear sense of place and identity, both unto themselves as well as their larger context.  As suggested by this initiative’s name, this location is a gateway, to the lakefront, the city and the larger region, and should create a sense of arrival.
Yearly celebrations, such as the Fourth of July Fireworks take place adjacent to these public spaces, as well as numerous runs, walks and other annual events. The goal of the central space is to be a sought out destination, unto itself. Given its adjacency to the many activities, it should be the space where friends meet up, and that visitors to Milwaukee seek out.

Milwaukee’s lakefront is a unique destination among American cities, given its location at the edge of downtown Milwaukee, its long and beloved history of public parks, greenways, and public access, its proximity to historic neighborhoods and businesses, and its well-established cultural assets. Unlike many other cities located on bodies of water, Milwaukee is both an affordable and an accessible city.

Milwaukee’s park-like lakefront immediately adjacent to its central business district is a unique feature unlike many other lakefront cities. The region’s embrace of water as a critically important economic development asset only serves to enhance the lakefront’s importance as a destination, a best-environmental-practices example, and an economic development opportunity for each generation of Milwaukee residents to embrace, improve and protect.


The location of these new public spaces may be their most notable aspects, by creating the opportunity for, as well as demanding the highest quality of design.

-The spaces, pedestrian connections and bicycle routes will enhance the larger connection between the downtown and Lakeshore State Park, located to the southwest of this initiative.

-The design of all the open spaces should integrate landscape design with surrounding urban developments and key placement areas for commissioned art.

-Design elements may include pedestrian bridge design and/or proposed location of the bridge landings, consideration of future uses of urban park to the south and connections between the surrounding urban fabric and lakefront amenities.

-The design of all the spaces needs to include the blending of the built environment with the natural environment. This will be demonstrated with innovative landscape, specifically water reuse, water capture, stormwater best management practices, which will enhance Milwaukee’s brand of “America’s Fresh Coast Capital”.

-The new central space, currently being referred to as “Lakefront Gateway Plaza”, will be designed to establish a clear sense of place and identity, both unto itself as well as its larger context. While the south space (Urban Park) is reduced a minimal amount through local street reorganization, the new central space area to the Lakefront Gateway Plaza is significantly increased.

-Through adjustment of the local streets, former “residual” land areas (east of Lincoln Memorial Drive and west of existing Harbor Drive) will now be shaped into civic quality spaces. The revised road network does not reduce the “usable” open space on the downtown lakefront, but rather reorganizes it and also turns former “residual” open spaces into additional “usable” open space. To see the comparisons between before and after, click HERE.

-All Lakefront Gateway streetscaping, boulevard medians, signage, way-finding and other green spaces adjacent to interstate ramps should be coordinated with the overall lakefront landscape design themes.

-The “Milwaukee 7”, southeast Wisconsin’s regional economic development organization, has identified key drivers of future economic and job growth in the region. Included as key drivers are water technology, as well as power and energy controls.  As “water” is very crucial to Milwaukee’s future, as well as “controls” from both past industrial might of the city and also future high-tech innovations, it may be key to incorporate references to these themes in concepts for this space.

The Three Main Public Open Spaces:


i) The south area, known as “Urban Park” will be re-shaped, retaining a large central lawn, but having a better defined perimeter in the concepts being explored. Critical biking and walking trails traverse this area and redesign needs to ensure theses are accommodated. See trail layout at this link

ii) The northern area, north of Michigan Street, known as “North Urban Park”, which is adjacent to the Milwaukee Art Museum is intended to be re-designed and programmed by that organization, and would be coordinated with both the existing gardens and potential new central plaza design.

iii) The crowning jewel of the open spaces in this Lakefront Gateway Project is the central main public space upon which all of these activities are centered. The location of the plaza is one of its most notable attributes, and demonstrates why this space needs a strong identity.

The proposed central plaza space would be directly adjacent to The Discovery World Museum at Pier Wisconsin, a science and educational center, just south of the Milwaukee Art Museum’s new front entry hall addition by world renowned architect Santiago Calatrava and the fountains and gardens designed by Dan Kiley. The Milwaukee Art Museum is also adjacent to the War Memorial designed by renowned architect Eero Saarinen. The southerly “Urban Park” space is adjacent to the Henry Maier Festival Grounds, the location of Summerfest, one of the nation’s largest outdoor music festivals. Across the drive is the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum.

The downtown central business district is located just a few blocks west on Michigan Street, which forms the space’s northern edge. A new Clybourn Boulevard will create a new entrance to the lakefront, with a dramatic vista of the lake and Discovery World, and will create the space’s southern edge.

The city’s lake shore drive, Lincoln Memorial Drive, which currently extends south from the northeast side lakefront neighborhood and the Frederick Law Olmstead designed Lake Park to the downtown, will be extended past the public spaces to connect to the thriving warehouse district, the Historic Third Ward to the south. The new proposed central public plaza space will be directly adjacent to this drive on the east.

The design of the plaza should:
-Create a showcase urban plaza that connects the existing civic assets to increase the vitality of the Milwaukee lakefront as the center of the Southeast region of Wisconsin.
-Enhance the cultural and recreational visitor experience at the lakefront.
-Provide a welcoming, accessible gateway for a diverse group of visitors.
-Create four season activity to attract visitors to the surrounding cultural attractions, museums, state park and downtown lakefront throughout the year.
-Integrate connections to the water and transitions to adjacent lakefront open spaces and civic uses.

-Evaluate concepts for the use of the plaza and urban park though the stakeholder input processes. An appropriate level of activation should be determined in this process. Activation may be achieved in a variety of ways, in year round approaches, and by different generations of users.  Necessary infrastructure, such as power and water, to support activation will be integral to the details of the final design.  (Ideas could include kiosks that serve a variety of items, set up for food trucks, restrooms and other elements that will help bring spaces to life to the spaces).

4 Initial Concepts Developed by the Design Team

The design of this new plaza area currently is in very early conceptual design. The design team hired jointly by the City of Milwaukee and Wisconsin Department of Transportation has created four (4) concepts to better show the range of scope and potential elements that could be a part of any final design for the project.

Concept A

*Click to Enlarge

Concept B

*Click to Enlarge
Perspective Set 1
Perspective Set 2

 Concept C

*Click to Enlarge
Perspective Set 1
Perspective Set 2

Concept D

*Click to Enlarge
Perspective Set 1
Perspective Set 2


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