Survey says: spend big! People vote for pricey Mitchell Park Domes changes, county leaders downplay poll

MILWAUKEE -- Voters in an online survey commissioned by Milwaukee County overwhelmingly support pricey changes to the iconic yet aging Mitchell Park Domes, leaving county leaders downplaying the results.

The poll, which was available online from mid-June through mid-July, asked respondents to choose from eight options that ranged from "do nothing" to creating an adventure park at the Domes. More than 2,400 votes were cast, the results indicate.

Mitchell Park Domes

The survey results were made available to FOX6 News through an open records request. County officials said they did not know how much the survey, conducted by an architecture firm, cost taxpayers.

READ: The full results of the Mitchell Park Domes public survey

Ninety percent of votes were in support of one of five major changes, ranging in cost from $40 million to $95 million. Less than one percent of votes favored doing nothing, while 1.1 percent said the Domes should be demolished.

The priciest options included building a nature-themed restaurant, aquarium, butterfly house, zipline, tree canopy walkway, and more.

Zipline rendering

But a member of the task force that will make a final recommendation to the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors said the most expensive changes probably won't happen.

Jason Haas

"Without a big change to the management and the fundraising, it seems unlikely right now that we could do that," said Jason Haas, who is also a county supervisor.

The survey is part of the ongoing work of the Domes Task Force, created in 2016 when Milwaukee County had to close the tourist attraction because concrete chips were falling from the structure. Within months, the three domes reopened with $800,000 metal netting protecting the plants and people below.

Haas minimized the importance of the survey, saying he didn't think the results would "tip us one way or the other." Instead, he said the county's finances would play a major role.

County Executive Chris Abele is not taking a position on any of the options laid out in the survey, said Karina Henderson, a spokeswoman for Abele.

Mitchell Park Domes

Survey's cost a mystery

County officials said the survey was not scientific because people could vote more than once. And the cost of the online poll remains a mystery -- even to county leaders.

“The county did not require that information and it was not provided to the county," said Erica Hayden, contracts manager for the Milwaukee County Parks Department.

In July 2017, the county agreed to a $156,130 contract with HGA, Inc., an engineering firm headquartered in Minnesota with offices in Milwaukee, for work related to the Domes Task Force.

Mitchell Park Domes

Of that amount, $36,360 was to be spent on a "public outreach program." But a subcontractor, Milwaukee-based Quorum Architects, conducted the survey. Costs were not broken out, county officials said.

The Domes Task Force is scheduled to discuss the survey results at a meeting Wednesday. Haas said he did not expect the panel to make its final recommendation to the county board until 2019.

Four of the options in the public survey are designed to increase annual attendance at the Domes to more than 400,000 people.

The facility has averaged 183,000 visitors per year since 2013, county records indicate. The months-long closure in 2016 led to significantly smaller attendance that year.