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After Temporary Fix, One Mitchell Park Dome Reopens

Marti Mikkelson
Workers lay down wood chips at the Show Dome on Thursday.

Only one of the three Milwaukee County Domes will reopen Friday. The county shut down the 50-year-old horticultural, glass-encased oasis earlier this year after a piece of concrete fell from one.

On Friday, a ceremony will mark the reopening of the Show Dome, the one that features seasonal displays. Workers were making preparations this week.

There’s been a lot to assemble in the Mitchell Park Show Dome. Crews had to remove much of the display months ago, so that huge cranes could hang safety nets.

Credit Jenni Konrad, flickr
The three Mitchell Park Domes.

Sandy Folaron, director of the Domes, knows visitors always appreciate the seasonal display, but this time many will also be looking up, curious about the netting. It spans the length of the seven story dome.

“That was the netting that was installed over the last two months to hold in any kind of fractures from the concrete. You can hardly see it, can you?” Folaron asks.

The Milwaukee County Board last month approved $500,000 to put up the netting in the Show Dome. It hosts the lion’s share of events. Admission is free Friday; however after that, it will cost $3. The charge had been $7 to tour all three Domes, but the other two remain closed.

Folaron is confident many people will come to see just the one, at least for now. “I think people will, because this is the dome that most people gravitate toward, especially in the winter. With it being so cold out now, I think people are anxious to see what we’ve got in here,” she says.

More work needs to be done, according to horticulture manager Amy Thurner. She says the improvements so far provide merely a Band-Aid. “It’s no fun having a wedding in here sometimes. Everything is leaking everywhere, it’s sometimes raining just as much inside as it is outside,” Thurner says.

Thurner supports tearing down the structures and building something more sustainable. “Getting a new Conservatory would give us the opportunities for education and events and stuff that we don’t have now. This is 50 years old and it isn’t energy efficient anymore. We could be saving so much if we had all those green initiatives in the new facility,” she says.

County officials have estimated it would cost $75 million to fully renovate the Domes.

“It’s just very exciting," says Mary Philipp, who manages the gift shop and is a member of Friends of the Domes. "I can’t even imagine what we could do with whatever direction we go in, just so we’re saved. We’re so important to the community for people who need rehab or peace if they’re ill, educational purposes and for fun."

Philipp says she looks forward to Saturday. That’s when county officials will hold a community input session on what should be Milwaukee’s long-range plan for the Domes. In the meantime, director Sandy Folaran expects the other two Domes, Tropical and Desert, to re-open in fall.

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