Save the Mitchell Park Domes

A New ‘Save Our Domes’ Coalition Just Launched

Momentum is building toward envisioning the future of the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, widely known as the Domes.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) and the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance (MPA) recently launched a coalition called “Save Our Domes.” NTHP had added the Domes to its annual 11 Most Endangered Historic Places roster last fall and in May named them a National Treasure, which is the nonprofit’s signature program for preserving significant sites.

As part of NTHP’s commitment, the national nonprofit also funded a peer-review study of options for repairing and restoring the deteriorating Domes. That engineering study, by Chicago-based Wiss, Jenney, Elstner, recommended a long-term approach that would prevent the ongoing leaking that has caused problems for the building’s concrete interior infrastructure. WJE’s $18.4-million proposal builds upon a plan by GRAEF, a Milwaukee-based engineering firm and includes more repairs to seal the trio of cone-shaped glasshouses that date to the mid-1960s.

NTHP, the largest national nonprofit supporting historic preservation, works in concert with local community partners. Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, Inc. is a “non-profit organization devoted to promoting stewardship and awareness of the historic, cultural, and economic value of Milwaukee’s built heritage.” MPA previously collaborated with the NTHP for five years on successfully developing a preservation solution for Milwaukee’s Soldiers Home, which was announced in 2016.

At a gathering last week at Urban Harvest Brewing in Walker’s Point, members of the MPA board of directors and NTHP staff from Chicago, Denver and Washington, D.C. offices informally shared information about the coalition and the WJE report with about 75 community members, and distributed promotional materials for the coalition.

Peter Zanghi, MPA president, said the goal is to work toward a “generational solution, not just a short-term fix.”

Zanghi noted that the Domes are one of Milwaukee’s identifying landmarks. “It’s where many people take their family and friends who come to town…where many people take wedding and prom pictures.” He said MPA and NTHP are flexible in their approach to finding a preservation solution and want to engage as many groups and individuals as possible in the process.

Lori Gensch, an MPA board member whose firm, Metropolitan Real Estate Consultants, has renovated many historic buildings, including where Urban Harvest Brewing is located, said the Domes are “an important mid-century modern structure.” She wants to be sure other citizens know about their significance and WJE’s report about options to restore them.

Zanghi, who identified himself as a Millennial, moved to Milwaukee in 2007 to attend University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He said that many in his generation share his interest in preserving the Domes’ architecture and the horticultural experiences they offer.

Tiffany Tolbert, a NTHP field officer based in Chicago, said the preservation coalition will host and promote other events throughout the summer, open to anyone who wants to learn more about the Domes and the coalition.

Charting a Future Path for the Domes

The Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory Task Force, which was appointed by the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors and has been meeting since last fall, requested additional studies to inform their review process about the Domes’ prospects. That led to Milwaukee County issuing a request for proposals, which drew submissions from local firms and ones throughout the country. Julie Bastin of Milwaukee County’s Department of Administrative Services is managing the project for the county and has worked on numerous county architectural and engineering projects for the past 18 years.

A selection committee that included Milwaukee County officials and William Lynch, chair of the Domes Task Force, has chosen a team headed by the Milwaukee-based architectural firm, HGA, Inc., to conduct a feasibility study and to propose potential future paths for the Domes as a destination. HGA has partnered with ConsultEcon, Inc. of Cambridge, Massachusetts, to do the economic feasibility portion of the project, which will include coordinating market, operational and economic studies.

HGA has designed many cultural destinations, including Milwaukee’s Discovery World; Madison’s Olbrich Botanical Gardens, which includes a conservatory; and the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend, as well as renovations and additions to Milwaukee’s War Memorial building and the Milwaukee Art Museum.

ConsultEcon, Inc. is an economic research and management consulting firm serving the museum, attractions, and tourism industry domestically and internationally, specializing in “services for new museums and for renovations and expansion of existing museums and attractions.” The team’s proposal notes that “ConsultEcon’s market and economic studies have been the basis for major investments and organizational improvements in museums, attractions, and performance venues.” Projects for major botanical gardens include for Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Boylston, Mass., and the Seattle Japanese Botanical Garden, as well as master planning for parks, gardens and neighborhoods throughout the U.S.

Milwaukee-based Quorum Architects will also conduct the community outreach phase of the planning. The firm has developed other plans for Milwaukee County, including for the revitalization of Washington Park and as well as projects for the Urban Ecology Center and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Other subconsultants are Kapur & Associates, Inc. of Milwaukee, for site development and water strategies; greenhouse consultant Montgomery Smith, Inc., of Burlington, Kentucky; and Middleton Construction Consulting of Madison for cost estimating.

Lynch commented in an email that “the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory Task Force is looking forward to the reservoir of expertise the HGA team will bring to our effort to discern a vibrant future for the MPHC.”