The Northwestern Mutual Community Park located at the Henry Maier Festival Park grounds opened on Thursday.
The renovation of the popular Northwestern Mutual Children’s Theater and Playzone was first announced in October 2020 and aimed to make the new space more inclusive, safe and accessible.
CEO of Milwaukee World Festival Inc. Don Smiley, chairman and CEO of Northwestern Mutual John Schlifske and President of Next Door Milwaukee Tracy Sparrow excitedly presented the park to the press and children from the Ability Center and The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee.
The new park includes enhanced, age-appropriate play equipment, a wheel-chair accessible permanent stage structure with a viewing area for over 500 patrons, family restrooms with changing tables, nursing mother stations, and sensory rooms for overstimulated or overwhelmed children.
The area also includes a shaded seating area for parents, a perimeter fence and soft surface flooring for safety compared to the wood chips of the old park.
There is a toddler play area called the Giggle Grounds that resides near the main park. The area is shaded and provides equipment for safe play.
Looking at the before photo, Smiley described the new park as a complete transformation of an area that badly needed an upgrade.
“This new space will welcome all families to our beautiful Milwaukee lakefront,” Smiley said.
The space is meant to be accessible to all children and a reflection of the people that make up the Milwaukee community. It was designed with a broad range of ages and abilities in mind. The equipment offers play for all children from six months to 12 years old, including those who face additional challenges. The interactive musical play pieces are accessible from the ground and incorporated all over the playground. There are more walkways and ramps that are wide enough for wheelchairs on the playground.
“Play is critical to children’s development,” Sparrow said. “It helps them learn how to take risks, learn their limits and also helps them learn how to get along with other people.”
The play equipment is divided by color and signage, signifying what equipment is appropriate for which age group, giving an opportunity to play and make memories for kids of all ages.
The park will be open to the public at 10 a.m. on June 19. For the remainder of the summer the park will be open noon to 4pm and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends from June 9 through August 5.