Wednesday, the National Trust for Historic Preservation designated the Mitchell Park Domes an endangered historic place. Domes’ supporters hope the designation will galvanize community support around repairing the iconic structures.
Milwaukee's Domes are largely made of glass and steel. They house arid and tropical plants as well as seasonal displays. Yet they’re important for a number of reasons, says Genell Scheurell. She is with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“They’ve been a key part of Milwaukee’s life for more than 50 years, and in addition to anchoring the Clarke Square neighborhood, the domes have long attracted visitors from across the nation and around the world, who come to experience these these truly one of a kind structures,” Scheurell says.
Scheurell says the Milwaukee Domes were the first cone shaped domes to be built in the world.
Back in February, the county closed all three due to falling concrete. Since then, crews have installed protective netting in two of the structures, allowing them to reopen, but the third remains closed.
County Executive Chris Abele has put the price tag on a permanent fix at between $65 million and $75 million, and he would not object to removing them, if that’s what residents want.
Supervisor Jason Haas says he believes the county executive’s numbers are inflated. Haas is chair of the Parks committee and a member of the task force assigned with evaluating all options. He says he hopes Wednesday’s designation of the domes as one of the country’s most endangered historic places will shut down talk about replacing them with something else.
“When national experts are telling you that a structure is in the same league as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin in Spring Green, Wisconsin or the National Soldiers Home here in Milwaukee, that’s a big deal,” Haas says.
The Domes are just one of many county assets in need of major repair, according to Rob Henken, executive director of the Public Policy Forum.
“Facilities in the expansive Milwaukee County Parks system, it also pertains to the county owned cultural institutions such as the public museum and the zoo. It pertains to the courthouse complex itself, where there has been a need identified to replace the safety building at a cost that could approach $180 million. It extends to the mental health complex on the county grounds,” Henken says.
Henken says the county simply cannot afford the upkeep on all its structures, so it will have to make difficult decisions and look at other revenue options. He adds, that while there are philanthropic groups here that donate to cultural institutions, competition for those dollars is stiff.