“If we’re a city on the move, we’ve got to think big.”
Rocky Marcoux, commissioner of the City of Milwaukee Department of City Development, said that — and did his best to demonstrate that – in an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Eckstein Hall on Tuesday. His excitement about big ideas for Milwaukee’s future was strong enough to get him literally getting out of his chair at one point and talking throughout the hour-long session with speed and enthusiasm.
What kind of big thoughts?
Perhaps the one that was freshest was his suggestion that construction of a new sports and entertainment complex should be tied to improving life along W. Wisconsin Ave. from the Milwaukee River west. Emphasizing that he was not speaking for Mayor Tom Barrett or the Common Council and not taking a formal position, Marcoux said Wisconsin Ave. is an important asset for the city that needs help, and the closer a new arena is to that area, the more likely it would be to trigger other good developments for downtown. This would suggest locating an arena south of the vacant Park East land north of Juneau Ave. that has been suggested by others. Marcoux said perhaps the site could be several blocks to the south, where the Milwaukee Arena and Milwaukee Theatre stand now, with some or all of the block occupied by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel included. That would be from N. Third to N. Sixth Streets and from Kilbourn Ave. to State St.
Or consider another big thought: The potential to turn the area at the east end of Michigan St. and Clybourn St. into a major new center of civic life. Largely occupied by freeway ramps and a barely-used transit center now, developer Rick Barrett has proposed constructing a 44-story building to be called the Couture on the site, close to Lake Michigan. Marcoux said that could be a “catalytic development” for the area and Barrett (no relation to the mayor) was “a guy who can get it done.” Marcoux excitedly used a water pitcher and glasses on the table next to him as mini-proxies for buildings that could arise in the area and how a thriving commercial district could be created.
Or a third: The Thirtieth Street Corridor as an upcoming center of economic growth and new jobs. The stretch of industrial land on the north side has generally fallen on hard times and includes the largely-vacant former A. O. Smith factory site. Marcoux said success in recent years in revitalizing the Menomonee Valley showed that areas such as the corridor could be turned around and become host to businesses offering ”thousands and thousands and thousands” of jobs. “I am very bullish,” he said. “We can replicate this (the Menomonee Valley turnaround) in the corridor.”
Or a fourth – and perhaps the most difficult: Reducing the gaps between black and white people in the Milwaukee area, gaps that so strongly also separate the well-to-do and well-educated from people living in poverty. Racial disparity has dogged Milwaukee, Marcoux said. “It’s an issue that we have to take head-on,” he said. He said Milwaukee can be “the renaissance city of the 21st Century,” but only if the sharp disparities in the metropolitan area are dealt with successfully in coming years.
Marcoux, who has been development chief for the city since 2004, spoke enthusiastically about the prospects for streetcar service downtown, for attracting more people to live in the city, for dealing with the city’s home foreclosure crisis, and for developing the stretch of unused Park East land west of the Milwaukee River on the north edge of downtown. Also, the city’s transportation system, higher education institutions, and pool of good workers. Also, the city government’s willingness to invest in building up the city and its willingness to help those who are doing that. In fact, there was really no point during the hour when Marcoux’s enthusiasm flagged. You can see this for yourself by clicking here.
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