The Friends of the Domes unveils vision for revitalized Domes and 'their home' Mitchell Park
A rainy evening didn’t keep dozens of people from gathering inside the Mitchell Park Domes to talk about their future — a future that seemed more promising by the meeting’s end.
Should the bee-hive-shaped glass structures filled with exotic and seasonal shows be saved, demolished, or modified?
Those questions have been looming for years: how many millions of dollars would each option cost, and how could financially-strapped Milwaukee County pay it?
Supervisor Juan Miguel Martinez represents the Mitchell Park neighborhood. He told the crowd he’s fighting for funds for both the Domes and the 62 acre park, including to clean its lagoon and add lighting.
“There needs to be an overhaul, there’s need to be something done in order for our community to thrive and I’m never going to stop fighting for that,” Martinez says.
Christa Beall Diefenbach says the organization she leads, the Friends of the Domes has come up with a viable path forward, starting with the Domes' restoration.
“That means new glass, that means new aluminum veneer that would go over the glass — fix the HVAC system and modernize the facility. So we’re creatively shifting what is within the facility,” Diefenbach says. “We would build a new education space that would have offices for our staff: it’s an absolute must. And we would address the energy inefficiencies, focused on clean energy and how to adopt those as part of your strategy.”
The proposal also tends to what Diefenbach calls "The Domes home": Mitchell Park.
"It could include anything from a soccer field to an outdoor plaza. So many wonderful ideas have been brought up, but that's not for us to determine here, and it's not even for the Friends of the Domes to determine by themselves, right? That's up to the community; that would be a community engagement process," Diefenbach says.
Diefenbach says the friends group is coming up with a sustainable financial path.
“The Friends of the Domes is willing to invest to make both the capital campaign and then exploration of these other funding areas a possibility,” Diefenbach says. “They unanimously adopted this plan; unanimously said that’s it, we’re in."
Lori Gramling lives nearby and runs a neighborhood arts program. She sees promise in the friend’s vision.
“The Friends of the Domes has done just a wonderful job of involving all of us. So we just want to really emphasize the possibilities that the Domes hold for pulling the city together in ways that are so important,” Gramling says.
Ellen Wilkinson addressed the attendees in Spanish. She teaches at a school in the neighborhood and serves on the Domes Friend’s board. Wilkinson says because the structures and their green space are vital.
“This is about equal access to quality parks. It is about investing in this neighborhood that has more children than any other neighborhood in all the city. This is about having a place of respite, of peace, right? And so all of you, I want to call you to action; we cannot do this alone, but we’re going to do it and we need your help,” Wilkinson says.
Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman chairs Milwaukee County’s parks committee. He says the Friends Group is offering an answer to the Domes future that must be considered.
“Let’s give it some time but at the same time, not a lot of time. We want action and the community needs action, not just more talk. But this is something new and they have time,” Wasserman says.
If you’d like to share your opinion on the path forward, there’s an online survey.