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A Special WUWM News SeriesThe Milwaukee River allowed commerce and industry to thrive during the city's formative years and provided recreation. However, disregard for the river's health led to decades of decay.WUWM News explores recent developments to rejuvenate the Milwaukee River and their success at drawing people back to the city's historic arterial.

War Memorial Parking Lot Revamp First Step in Creating Milwaukee Shoreline Master Plan

S Bence

If a rain drop were human, a human who liked to hang out in Lake Michigan, it would love to fall on the big parking lot north of Milwaukee County’s War Memorial Center.

“In this situation, all of the stormwater flows directly into the lake,” says Phil Schultz. He's chair of the Rotary Club of Milwaukee's environment and ecology committee.

The club rents space in the War Memorial and holds meetings there.

For years, Schultz has watched and worried about the parking lot. “So in the winter time when there’s a lot of salt and all year long with the oils that’s really bad for the fish, and the birds and waterfowl that live in the lake. So this would be a great opportunity to address that and at the same time improve the aesthetics along the lake here,” he says.

Credit Susan Bence

The parking lot was due for repaving, so Schultz suggested why not think green.

Peter Pochowski, head the board of the War Memorial Center, says, while it supports greening the lot, it can’t afford to lose any of the 300 parking spaces.

“The only funding streams we have are the events going on here, weddings, and our parking,” Pochowski says.

At the same time, he says the War Memorial wants to be a good neighbor to nearby Northwestern Mutual and to residents who live up the hill in high rise apartments and condos. They have a bird’s eye view of the lot – and the lake.

Credit Milwaukee County Parks

“They don’t want a Walmart parking lot here so we want to make this as attractive as we possibly can,” Pochowski says.

Kevin Haley with the county’s Parks Department says the new lot will also have to tread softly on the environment. “I think not many people realize this stuff all used to be under water – this was Lake Michigan,” he says.

Milwaukee actually created this lakefront using heaps and heaps of fill.

READ: Public Works Project Fills in Milwaukee Lakefront to Create More Public Access

“Unfortunately [the] fill used in the past was not always clean," Haley says. "I think the long and short of it, we’ve got challenges knowing there are sediment and fills and just to be cognizant and design around that."

The plight of the lakefront parking lot has launched a broader conversation about creating a Milwaukee Shoreline Master Plan.

It would fold in other paved areas and man-made structures that buffer Veterans Park from the lake.

Credit Susan Bence
Veterans Park

“Not just the stormwater management, but anything else that goes along the lakefront. For example you see we have a very hard steel wall at the water’s edge which is very unnatural transition into the water," Rotary Club's Phil Schultz says. "There would be a real desire to soften that so there’s a way for people to get down to the water’s edge in this area. To put their feet in the water, to put kayaks in and do all sorts of things that improve the aesthetics and use of the lakeshore."

Schultz says if the final plan does its job, any project heading north and east of the War Memorial would have to be designed with the natural environment and humans in mind.

What must come first, the cluster of interested players say, is community buy-in and dollars. So far, the fuel is a $75,000 planning grant from the Fund for Lake Michigan.

In the meantime, raindrops falling on the War Memorial parking lot will continue to enjoy free access to Lake Michigan.

Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.
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