Proposal would extend Milwaukee's RiverWalk from downtown into Menomonee Valley
Milwaukee's RiverWalk, which runs through downtown and the Historic Third Ward, would be extended to the Menomonee Valley under a new proposal.(Photo: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
One of Milwaukee's signature urban features will extend into one of its geographic landmarks under a major expansion unveiled Monday.
The Plan Commission on Monday approved the first steps toward eventually extending Milwaukee's RiverWalk — which travels from the Beerline area through downtown and the Historic Third Ward — on into the Menomonee Valley.
It would run between the confluence of the Milwaukee and Menomonee rivers, near N. Water and E. Seeboth streets, through such areas as the Harley-Davidson Museum and City Lights Brewing Co. to Three Bridges Park, beneath the S. 27th St. viaduct.
It will likely take several years before the extension is built, if approved.
In March 1988, former Mayor John Norquist and the city announced the Riverwalk Initiative with the intent to use the river as a means to connect downtown development with business and leisure activities. City leaders believed the project would improve public access to the river and increase property values.
The primary goal was to put a renewed focus on the river as a destination for residents, employees and visitors alike, according to the Department of City Development.
Today, the RiverWalk on the Milwaukee River runs six miles, from the North Ave. dam to the harbor. Much of that work started in the early 1990s, with portions generally built as new buildings were developed on both banks.
The Beerline area has seen explosive growth in condominiums and apartments, and with that have come numerous restaurants, bars, shops and other small businesses. The former industrial corridor was once part of a railroad route used by the Blatz, Pabst and Schlitz breweries.
The downtown section of the RiverWalk rolls through the heart of the city, past everything from Usinger's Sausage to Pere Marquette Park to the Milwaukee Repertory Theater — and the Bronze Fonz statue.
The Third Ward section goes through the old warehouse district that is now a center for art galleries, and trendy shops, bars and restaurants.
The RiverWalk is 83% complete, said Bob Harris, a Department of City Development project manager. Additional segments are under construction, including pieces at the new Domus and River Houseapartments.
For the Menomonee River, city officials and private developers could follow that formula, with RiverWalk portions built in conjunction with individual projects, Harris said. Or portions could be built up front, he said.
The funding formula would remain the same: city funds paying for 70% of the costs, with the private landowners covering the remaining expenses, Harris told Plan Commission members. Property taxes from new development pay back the city funds.
There are no cost estimates or specific plans yet for the Menomonee Valley RiverWalk.
The commission's action was to approve a zoning district and design standards. Common Council approval also is needed.
The valley RiverWalk will differ from the main RiverWalk.
The valley has many industrial buildings, Harris said, and it won't likely see the same type of projects that have occurred along the Milwaukee River.
But there are vacant parcels along the Menomonee River that can be developed.
And some redeveloped uses, such as the Harley-Davidson Museum and the City Lights buildings, which include the new City Lights Brewing and Zimmerman Architectural Studios Inc.'s offices, already have riverfront sidewalks.
"You can really see the opportunity," Harris said, "particularly along the northern span of the river."
The river has been a driver of downtown development for years, with housing bringing in young people and empty nesters. And the RiverWalk plan comes as an extraordinary commercial real estate boom is reshaping the city's skyline and transforming the ways Milwaukeeans live, work and play downtown.
Plan Commission member Larri Jacquart was among those praising the proposal, saying it will help improve public access to the Menomonee River.
"This is exciting," she said.