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Photo by Hien Nguyen You can’t help but notice that something’s going on in Downtown Milwaukee. There’s movement, transition. Old buildings are coming down, new ones are going up. Highways are being reconfigured and bridges repaved. But it’s more than the sky-high construction cranes and countless orange traffic cones (the price we pay for change). Ideas […]


Photo by Hien Nguyen

You can’t help but notice that something’s going on in Downtown Milwaukee. There’s movement, transition. Old buildings are coming down, new ones are going up. Highways are being reconfigured and bridges repaved.

But it’s more than the sky-high construction cranes and countless orange traffic cones (the price we pay for change). Ideas are flowing, big plans are circulating. A transformation is in the works, and a sense of excitement is in the air.
In this month’s cover story, Assistant Editor Dan Shafer lays out the pieces of the puzzle that could form a new and improved Downtown. In the not-too-distant future, we will see an office tower rise on the Northwestern Mutual campus, more apartments on both sides of the river, fresh hotel rooms in the Third Ward – and possibly a new sports and entertainment complex in the city’s core. That’s just a part of what’s been proposed. 
Again and again, in nearly 30 interviews with elected officials, business leaders, real estate developers and entertainment execs, Shafer heard echoes of optimism about the future. “There hasn’t been that scale of projects, let alone on multiple fronts, in recent memory,” Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele told him. 
But predictions of a Milwaukee “renaissance” have been made before. More than 15 years ago, I wrote an article for this magazine about the opening of the “new” convention center, then called the Midwest Express Center. Forecasts were made that the tourism hub would revitalize West Wisconsin Avenue, encourage better street access to retail at the Shops of Grand Avenue and spur the addition of a hotel along the street. 
None of that happened. On the contrary, retail and residential development on West Wisconsin never materialized. Major stores pulled out of the Grand Avenue mall. And the conventions declined steadily from a peak attendance of 1 million in 2002. Feelings of disappointment and missed opportunities linger even today, leading some to question the latest proposals.
Yet a boomlet of sorts did result. The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts got a face-lift, the Imax Theater opened, extensions were added to the RiverWalk, and a grand expansion of the Milwaukee Art Museum began to take shape. 
Today, signs point to a much more elaborate and full-scale boom. As Shafer writes, “There’s an overwhelming sense that there is a critical mass building in Milwaukee,” radical changes that could carry Downtown, and the entire metro area, into a phase of new possibilities and growth. 
So here’s to bold ideas. We’re hoping the city leaders have learned from past mistakes and can overcome their long-held aversion to taking calculated risks.
Milwaukee Magazine has a couple of new additions to its pages as well. In the October issue, we introduced a column called the “Rec Department,” which focuses on recreational experiences in the area. In this issue, we debut a column titled “Tech.” Written by Shafer, it provides a critical look at new technologies that are being rolled out – and thoughts on how they might impact your life. 

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