MILWAUKEE -- For the first time, on Wednesday evening, February 24th, the public had the opportunity to weigh in on the future of the Mitchell Park Domes.
The Arid (desert) Dome was closed on January 29th — after a fallen chunk of concrete was discovered. On February 5th, officials said all three Domes would be closed for the weekend due to safety concerns. Then, we learned all three Domes would remain closed indefinitely.
There were emotional comments from members of the public on Wednesday evening, who said Milwaukee County officials should do whatever it takes to reopen the Domes, and keep them open. That included remarks from one informed citizen who said Milwaukee County leaders should've seen this coming.
As citizens lined up to offer their opinion, Mark Tiegs watched, believing Milwaukee County leaders should've acted sooner.
Tiegs was the director of the Mitchell Park Domes 10 years ago.
"I proposed to our parks director back then, in 2006, that the Domes probably have between 10-15 years of useful life without any major maintenance to it and guess I`m right on the target at 10 years," Tiegs said.
The meeting began with some political gamesmanship.
Theo Lipscomb, chairman of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors was sure to note Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele wasn't at the public hearing.
"Hundreds of people have shown up and one of the things they wanted was to hear from their county executive about his vision, his commitment," Lipscomb said.
Lipscomb issued this statement to FOX6 News:
“Clearly, it is easier for Abele to travel to Madison and negotiate behind closed doors to hand over $80 million of the public’s money to the private Bucks arena than meet in the open with local residents about the future of the Domes, iconic park structures that belong to the public,” said Lipscomb.
“The County Executive has a pattern of failing to show-up for work,” Lipscomb said. “This time, Abele is refusing to provide an explanation of how administrative inaction led to the closure of all three Domes and is hiding from the public his vetoes of funding for parks repairs.”
Last year, the County Executive repeatedly violated the law by refusing to appear before the public during legislative deliberations on the annual budget to answer questions about his fiscal and policy recommendations. The Board authorized court action against the County Executive. The case is headed to the courts on Monday, February 29 at 9:30 a.m. before Judge William Sosnay.
Lipscomb said the Domes are the most self-evident example of the current effects of deferred maintenance on Milwaukee County Parks.
“This Administration and the prior one neglected our public parks, and now there are chunks of concrete falling from the Domes,” Lipscomb said. “Our goal is to adopt at the next Board meeting a realistic plan that sets definitive deadlines for the Administration to reopen all three Domes and address the concerns we heard from the public tonight.”
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to meet at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, March 17th at the County Courthouse.
The Board in July of 2015 authorized $5 million for parks repairs, and the County Executive vetoed the funding deeming the investment, “flippant and irresponsible.” The Board overrode that Executive veto, and in September unanimously voted to allocate $500,000 from that appropriation specifically to the Domes to install netting to ensure public safety. Even though the County Executive refused to sign that legislation, the Board’s action prevailed and this $500,000 in parks funding now is being used to reopen the Show Domes.
The Board’s Committee on Parks, Energy, and the Environment also will meet on Wednesday, March 8th to learn more about the County Executive’s “ballpark” calculations that rehab of the three Domes could cost $70 million.
The Milwaukee County Executive's Office said Abele was out of the state at a national meeting for the Boys & Girls Club.
Senator Chris Larson, who is running against Abele for Milwaukee county executive, was present for the public hearing. He issued this statement to FOX6 News:
“If elected leaders can afford to spend millions on an arena for out-of-state billionaires, we can afford to preserve and protect cultural institutions important to our community.
Every family deserves access to a quality park. That’s our legacy, and that’s my promise.”
As for the Domes, we got some insight Wednesday evening into the scope of a full replacement.
"It is my opinion that anything short of full repair or complete replacement will lead to even greater costs in the future," John Dargle, Milwaukee County Parks director said.
Milwaukee County's facilities manager said that would include replacing the concrete system, as well as the aluminum framing and glass. He said the rough estimate cost for doing that in all three Domes ranges between $60 million and $71 million.
On Monday, February 22nd, Abele presented a $1 million short-term plan that involves wrapping the "connections" in the Domes with a wire mesh.
The County Board has already allocated half that amount for Domes repairs.
Citizens like Linda Carlson say the county should make its decisions knowing the Domes are recognized as far away as Japan.
"I don`t read Japanese, but I certainly recognize the pictures and asked my host to translate what the article said and it said 'if you get any place in the United States, you should try to get your tour to include a trip to Milwaukee because the Domes are so fabulous,'" Carlson said.
The Milwaukee County Board's Parks Committee will take a closer look at the suggestions.
It could act on a short-term plan at its March 8th meeting.
Abele has said his hope is for the "Show Dome" to open by May 1st.