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Milwaukee County Board Votes Down Sale of O'Donnell Park

S Bence

After lengthy debate, and an attempt to put the vote off another month, the Milwaukee County Board narrowly rejected the $14 million sale of O'Donnell Park to Northwestern Mutual.

The company's plan called for putting $7 million into the repair of O'Donnell's parking garage and improve the green space atop, for the enjoyment of both NML employees and the public.

The county board vote was 9 against the sale, 8 in favor.

Supervisor Anthony Staskunas' vote was among the ayes.

He countered a common criticism - that the $14 million sale price was too low. Staskunas called the sum fair.

He said he doesn't take the sale of parkland lightly, but added, “one of the reasons I took the position in favor of this is that I listened very carefully at a public hearing where we had several hundred people and person after person who live near O’Donnell Park described it an an eyesore and as unkempt.”

Staskunas said Milwaukee County is not in the financial position to turn the park around. He's confident Northwestern Mutual would. “I think we’re all going to be very proud a few years down the road when we see what has transpired and what our partner Northwestern Mutual does with this site,” Staskunas said.

Supervisor Patricia Jursik's has been a resounding voice of concern.

She says she fears the public might one day lose access to the green space; and she worried about deedrestrictionsassociated with the parcel.

“If this board violates one of the deed restrictions, and there are actually two deed restrictions on that north section. One of them does requires public use," Jursik said. "Much later the county received from the city a deed that restricted sale which restricted sale to a private party, and I ask you, how do you just glance off that, as if that’s just part of a transaction that we can sign off on."

She added, saying no to this deal, did not mean Northwestern Mutual would not come back to Milwaukee County with another offer.

In an interview earlier this weekwith Lake Effect's Mitch Teich, Northwest Mutual spokesperson Sandy Botcher, said Northwestern Mutual owns other downtown parcels on which it can built a parking structure.

"So if this sale doesn't go forward, it's the community that loses; Northwestern Mutual will build parking somewhere else; we do have other options, so this isn't about Northwestern Mutual losing, it's about the community losing," Botcher said.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.