The Milwaukee County Board invited residents to share their thoughts about the future of the Mitchell Park Domes on Wednesday. Over 250 people gathered in the park's greenhouse annex and voiced their support for reopening Domes.
The three bee-hive shaped glass structures, each featuring special plants, have been shuttered since February 6 as concerns mounted about crumbling concrete.
A $1 million temporary repair plan is on the table, but concerns have been raised about the long-term future of the horticultural oasis.
First came the official comments, including those of Milwaukee County Parks Director John Dargle.
“Please note that the structure itself is sound, it’s just that the concrete casings around the steel structure continue to be a threat and the surface chips of concrete that continue to fall was a concern,” Dargle said.
Then the meeting got on to the business of what the public thinks about the Domes.
Friends of the Domes President Roger Krawiecki said he was speaking on behalf of its 1,600 members. Krawiecki says the Domes are not a dying plant conservatory.
“Media has painted a picture that we are closing. The public is very confused. People have been calling us asking us if they can buy the plants. The plants are not going anywhere,” Krawiecki said.
Bonnie Bruhn wanted to speak on behalf of her young granddaughter.
“It’s the best classroom that Wisconsin has. She is always learning something, it’s always what’s happening at the Domes," she said. "The last time we were here she cried because she saw the desert dome was closed."
Some residents, including Elizabeth Ermerc of Wauwatosa, were frustrated not to see County Executive Chris Abele at the front table.
“Executive Abele has disrespected our County Board and citizenry with his continued maneuvering for more personal power as partially evidenced by his absence here tonight,” Ermerc said.
The County Executive issued a release Tuesday stating he would be unable to attend the public hearing “due to a previously scheduled commitment in his role as Treasurer of the Boys & Girls Club of America Board of Governors.”
Erica Elia wanted to share the perspective of a small business owner. Hers is a cupcake business in downtown Milwaukee. Last year, she helped spearhead a cupcake festival at the Domes.
"We got almost 5,000 people through the door. Many of those people hadn’t been in this facility for many years, many of them discovered it anew. I just think of this place as a great community meeting spot,” Elia said.
Resident after resident expressed love of the Mitchell Park Domes.
Andy Andre says they became his oasis when he moved to Milwaukee from “the Mediterranean part of Europe.”
“Coming to Milwaukee and not having been one of those who can afford tropical vacations in the winter, it’s the Domes keep my sanity, it’s as simple as that we’re pretty much unanimous that the Domes need to be preserved, no matter the price. And as we’ve had some surveys done before, Milwaukee county residents are willing to pay more in taxes in order to preserve the parks, which I think is a rarity, I believe in any society,” Andre said.
One speaker, who also happened to be the youngest, received a standing ovation. The twelve year old lives in Fox Point.
"I am Arthur Capps and I have something to say. There are many things at the Domes that many of us would never see. I would would never be able to see like the sausage fruit tree or the golden shrimp tree, for example that they have here. Except in pictures. The Domes is as important as the Milwaukee Zoo, it’s like a Zoo except for plants. We need to preserve the Domes," he said.
County Board Chairman Theo Lipsomb believes everyone left the public meeting more informed.
Lipscomb calls the session the beginning of a community conversation to figure out the right path for the Domes' future.
“There’s more analysis to be done. The engineers are working on several possibilities for a shorter term fix might be arrived at. I think beyond that short term fix, if there’s not a viable plan for sustaining the Domes,” Lipscomb added, “ if we look to rebuild them, I hope that we look for something visionary. I hope we would have a design competition to or something to get a proposal that would be equally as visionary of that which was the Domes in their genesis.”
The next formal conversation about the Domes and their short term fix will during the Park’s Committee meeting on March 8.