Marquette acquires vacant Norris Park for 25 years

When the winter freeze permanently lifts from Milwaukee sometime this spring, Marquette students will have a new place to play.

The Milwaukee City Common Council voted unanimously last week to lease Norris Park, located in the the 1800 block of Kilbourn Avenue, to the university for one dollar per year for the next 25 years.

The park was maintained by Milwaukee Public Schools as a playground for the former Wells Street Public School until the Milwaukee Rescue Mission bought the school building in 1982, according to the city’s lease report. MPS continued to care for the site until 2003.

But since that time, the park has fallen into a state of disrepair from lack of maintenance and use, said Robert Bauman, alderman of Milwaukee’s Fourth District, which covers the Marquette campus and surrounding neighborhood.

The city tried to find other ways to improve the park since designating the site for improvement in its 2004 Near West Side Area Plan, but estimated renovation costs were too high for the city to take on. That’s where Marquette’s interest in the site came into play, Bauman said.

In return for the land, the university has agreed to pay for removal of asphalt, improvements to the existing fieldhouse, security cameras, installation of new natural grass turf and floodlights for safety and nighttime use. The estimated cost of the renovations is $400,000, according to city documents.

The city had previously received funds to remove asphalt and plant new grass in 2007.

Once the upgrades are finished, the university will use the site for club and intramural sports. The public will also have free access to the park, said Rana Altenburg, Marquette’s vice president of public affairs.

She said the agreement was a “great collaboration” between city and student governments. Marquette Student Government was instrumental in communicating the student body’s desire for more green space near campus, Altenburg said.

The 25-year lease length was a compromise between the city and the university, which originally proposed a lease term of at least 50 years, Altenburg said.

“If Marquette is going to spend money on improvements, obviously they’ll want to have time to enjoy them,” Bauman said.

June Moberly, executive director of the Avenues West Association, said the new oversight of the previously unused land will be good for the neighborhood.

Public access to the new facilities was an important part of the lease negotiations, as the park will remain city property. Organizations such as the Milwaukee Center For Independence will be able to coordinate with the university to use the space, Moberly said.

She added that the leasing process has been an amicable one, and barring any drastically negative outcomes, the lease will likely be extended beyond the 25 years agreed upon.

“I’m sure students will use the property and that Marquette will take good care of it,” she said.