Task force approves wedding garden, classrooms, farm-to-table restaurant at Domes, for $66M over 10 years

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Mitchell Park Domes Task Force

Mitchell Park Domes Task Force

MILWAUKEE -- The Mitchell Park Domes Task Force on Tuesday, Aug. 13 voted to endorse a plan to restore the Domes, expand programming, and add amenities -- sending the recommendations to a Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors committee for approval.

Milwaukee County Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb said this in a news release Tuesday evening, after the vote:

"I want to thank the members of the Domes Task Force for the tremendous effort they have put into developing a long-term plan for the Mitchell Park Domes. Over the past three years, Task Force members have heard countless hours of presentations and reports and diligently read through hundreds of pages of information and analysis. I greatly appreciate the commitment of the Task Force members who have sacrificed their time in service to the public, and am eager to review their recommendations. I remain interested in restoring the Domes and enhancing their value for Milwaukee County residents and visitors."

Over the years, several options have been considered, including demolition of the Domes and even an adventure park, but the Domes Task Force proposed something else -- a recommendation to re-vamp the Domes, while still keeping the park true to its original purpose.

Mitchell Park Domes

"All three of the Domes will be rehabilitated," said William Lynch, Domes Task Force chairman. "We're making the Domes more than just a place to see pretty plants."

Mitchell Park Domes

The vision was outlined in a 160-page business and design plan, one that Lynch said would include an outdoor wedding garden, classrooms, a farm-to-table restaurant, a welcome center, event venue, and amphitheater -- creating an urban botanical park and conservatory with rotating, traveling horticulture events and recreational opportunities.

"It's a broad-based re-envisioning of Mitchell Park and the Domes for the next 50 years," said Lynch.

Mitchell Park Domes

So what's the cost?

"$66 million in capital cost over a 10-year period," Lynch said.

Lynch said $13.5 million would come from county-issued bonds, another $13.5 million from private funding, and the rest from various sources.

"Using historic preservation tax credits, new market tax credits, and opportunity zone investing," said Lynch.

Mitchell Park Domes

Lynch, who's been involved in the project since 2016, said the cost has drawn some pushback from critics.

"The main criticism I've heard is not a criticism of what we're proposing, but a, 'We can't do it' response, or, 'It's too expensive'," said Lynch.

Mitchell Park Domes

Still, Lynch said he believes the possibilities for future generations will outweigh any initial expenses. Once complete, architects estimated it would create 300 on-site jobs, serving an expected 300,000 visitors a year, bringing in $160 million for the community over 10 years.

If approved by the Committee on Parks, Energy and Environment Sept. 10, the recommendation would next go to the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors in late September.

If approved, architects estimated construction could begin as early as summer 2020, with major changes within the first five years.

Below is a statement from the "Save Our Domes Coalition" following Tuesday night's approval of this plan:

"Save our Domes, a coalition founded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, applauds the Domes Task Force on last night’s passage of a resolution in support of a public-private partnership to restore the Domes and revitalize Mitchell Park. The plan would utilize Historic Tax Credits, a financing tool we have long suggested could be a source of funding for this project, along with other financial incentives, private philanthropy, and public funds. It is clear that revitalization of the Domes--rather than demolition--is the option that the public has consistently supported. During the Task Force’s extensive planning process, area residents have strongly stated that the Domes must be preserved. The plan recommended by the Task Force reflects this sentiment with the clear statement that 'losing them (the Domes) would be like losing the heart of the city.'"

Mitchell Park Domes

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