After hearing from numerous residents, a Milwaukee County panel is giving the public two more weeks to weigh in on a proposal to privatize part of the Bradford Beach Bathhouse.
The pavilion already houses a counter service restaurant on the first level, operated by Nicholas Hynes and his partner Lukaz Cholodecki. They’re proposing adding chairs, tables and a service bar on the building’s second floor, which is currently open to the public. Critics say the move would restrict access to the space because it would be reserved for paying customers.
The Milwaukee County Lakefront Development Advisory Commission considered the proposal Wednesday evening.
Chair Bill Lynch says it’s the commission’s job to make recommendations on proposals located on publicly owned lakefront property and pass them along to “government deciders.” The decision on whether to approve the Hynes and Cholodecki plan is up to the Milwaukee County Parks Department.
“We have often in the commission when there has been very little controversy about a proposal suspended that rule and gone ahead with deliberation of the proposal and formulation of our recommendation,” Lynch explained.
Lynch says the panel has received more than 200 comments about the plan.
“I think I’ve read them all, except maybe some that came in the last half hour. And I have only been able to find one of those that supports going ahead with the development as proposed,” Lynch said.
Hynes and Cholodecki have operated pavilion concessions as well as tiki hut bars at Bradford Beach since 2019, when they signed a 5-year lease with Milwaukee County.
Speaking about the proposal to use the second floor of the pavilion, Cholodecki told commissioners, “we’re taking an area that’s been underutilized.” He continued, “Bradford Beach right now, from our perspective, is oftentimes filled with people who are not residents of the neighborhoods. They’re coming from all places far and near to use this beach and it’s not necessarily welcoming to older residents or families.”
County Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman, who also sits on the Lakefront Development Advisory Commission, wants to see the project move forward. Wasserman’s district includes Milwaukee’s east side and a portion of the lakefront.
Wasserman chairs the County parks committee. It discussed the Bradford Beach proposal earlier this week.
“We have to deal with people who are older. Beaches should be enjoyed by everybody and to make it an exclusive young-persons-only beach which Bradford Beach has become -- and I don’t have problem with young people coming of all colors, all races, all genders -- but we have to stick up for older people, too. And this restaurant potentially can bring more older people to sit down on a safe environment,” Wasserman says.
Other commissioners, including James Hall, raised concerns about the proposed restaurant expansion deterring rather than promoting a welcoming public space.
Meanwhile, Commissioner John Budzinkski, who represents the DNR on the panel, told the group his agency is reviewing the proposal through the lens of the state’s Public Trust Doctrine. It states that all citizens have the right to enjoy Wisconsin’s waters. That includes Lake Michigan and its lakebed.
Tony Wilkin Gibart with Midwest Environmental Advocates explained: “The state of Wisconsin has historically understood any private development on public trust land should be supportive of public trust purposes, and in the case of the beach that includes swimming and boating and recreation.” Gibart added, “When you have a bar or a restaurant that is intended to be a destination onto itself and is not ancillary that has traditionally been seen as out of bounds.”