Marquette Wire

Abele talks redevelopment, economy in first inaugural address

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During his inaugural address on April 24, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said he plans to push for redevelopment of the Park East Freeway land and the Downtown Transit Center on the city’s lakefront.

According to Abele’s address, a number of groups are looking to buy and develop the transit center, which he said is both underused and one of the most sought-after pieces of land in the entire state.

Marquette political science professor Janet Boles does not think the Downtown Transit Center, which was built in 1992, has lived up to expectations.

“Obviously, the transit center was ill-conceived,” Boles said. “There was some hope that people would be using something other than the city bus system, but Milwaukee remains the largest city without a light rail.”

The Long-Range Lakefront Planning Committee, in a report issued to the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, recommended that the transit center be redeveloped with “high-value, multi-story use housing amenities.”

Richard Robinson, Marquette associate professor of marketing, said recommendations from experts on the situation should be taken into account.

“For the transit center, it is high time that we respected the recommendations of the recognized experts, whose work continues regardless of the political process,” Robinson said.

The largely vacant Park East Freeway, meanwhile, was once thought of as a potential home for Kohl’s corporate headquarters, though the company ultimately elected to remain in Menomonee Falls. Brendan Conway, communications director for the Milwaukee County Executive’s office, said that the goal is to still attract businesses despite Kohl’s decision to stay put.

“Kohl’s is for sure not going to (relocate to the Park East land),” Conway said. “There was an attractive package and they decided to stay in (their) location. (Possibilities for business relocation) could be one big business that could come here or many small ones.”

Boles said that Abele’s efforts for redevelopment are nothing new for Milwaukee.

“Abele is of course going to do what his predecessors have tried to do, and that is getting something on that vacant land,” Boles said. “That vacant land is not producing any tax revenue.”

Boles noted that hopes of attracting businesses to this land date back to the tenure of former Mayor John Norquist, who chose to tear down part of the freeway.

“There was great hope that (tearing down part of the freeway) would lead to the flowering of this area, but nothing happened,” Boles said. “The only thing we’ve seen is condos and some worry that we have overbuilt condos. MSOE proposed building a parking structure but there is some complaining that a more revenue-productive use could be found.”

Conway said all the redevelopment efforts will take some time, as it is not a quick process.

“(The redevelopments) are ongoing efforts,” Conway said. “There is no time line. … The county didn’t do anything with land for long time and part of it was the economy. We’re doubling down on the efforts to do something.”

Abele, elected to his first full term last month, was originally elected in April of last year to finish out the remainder of Scott Walker’s term as county executive.

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