Revelations in Milwaukee: Historic Reuse, Natural-Lit Parking and Free Parking


I’ve returned from a recent junket to fair Milwaukee. I hadn’t been to Milwaukee
in fifteen years, and parts of the city have changed dramatically since
then. Two examples and a policy

• I noticed on my tour of the lakeshore, the vital reuse of
the Milwaukee River Flushing Station (pictured). Alterra Coffee (in combination with the
Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and Milwaukee County)
rehabilitated the station, which was built in 1888 to flush sewage harbored in
the river into Lake Michigan. Does this strike you as an ironic piece of
infrastructure to reuse as a coffee shop?

In fact, it works conspicuously well. The building remains owned by the sewerage
district (“MMSD”), and the county owns all land from the periphery of the
building to the edge of the site. The physical
structure is aligned with its new mission: Pervious pavement and water filtration systems are narrated on displays constructed
by the county’s parks department. The
building’s lakeshore location is not surprisingly home to a brisk business
moving excellent food and coffee; Alterra also sponsors a music series with
wares ranging from opera to Latin American.

Special thanks to Bill Robison, Principal at Engberg Anderson,
an architecture firm with offices in Milwaukee, Madison and Tucson. As the lead architect on this reuse project,
Bill partnered with Alterra, MMSD and the county, and generously responded to
my recent cold inquiry about its development.

Milwaukee Art Museum’s
renovation and expansion includes dramatic architecture and serves the need for
a much-enhanced connection between downtown and Lake
Michigan. Of course, as
principal of a public finance and transportation consulting firm, I was most
drawn to the Milwaukee_parking
underground parking garage lit with skylights (also pictured). Facilities Director Charles Loomis explained
that sensors evaluate the quality of light admitted through the skylights and
adjust the use of lighting to supplement, creating significant (but to date unquantified)
energy cost savings to the museum.  And to preempt your question before you read below, museum parking is not free.

• A recent post at Urban
cited SBT and Colliers data showing the median metered hourly
parking rate in downtown Milwaukee is $0.63, versus a national average of $1.48. Author Jeramey Jannene suggests an oversupply of metered parking
downtown has suppressed redevelopment efforts: The zoning code requires structured
parking in site plans, which represents a mandate to lose money in an
environment with an oversupply of cheap on-street parking.

In St. Paul,
a very different discussion is taking place regarding the anticipated loss of
roughly 85% of on-street parking on University Avenue as light rail transit is added to the
street’s modes. At the same time, the
Metropolitan Council has indicated their wish to discourage the building of
structured parking just off the avenue in order to avoid the avenue’s use as a
park-and-ride. Arguably, the main impact
of this move is to drive up land values and favor those who control larger
parcels near University. It also highlights
the importance of the type of transportation consulting that Donjek’s Dan Walsh
can provide, including analysis and negotiation for structured parking, shared
parking, and travel demand management (TDM).

The travel log would remain incomplete without noting our visit to Sprecher Brewery, where I sampled their very fine Shakparo beer, fermented according to an African protocol using bananas.  The beer tent in Milwaukee continues to get bigger and bigger!

Photo of Milwaukee River Flushing Station: Retinal Fetish, Flickr. Parking garage photo: J. Commers