In an agreement signed on December 18 with Milwaukee County, the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) is taking ownership of several buildings that make up its lakefront campus, along with O’Donnell Park and the parking garage beneath it.
Included in the deal, MAM will assume responsibility for tens of millions of dollars in maintenance costs for the structures, while the county retains ownership of the land.
“As a longtime personal supporter of both the Milwaukee Art Museum and efforts to preserve our lakefront, I am pleased that this deal also protects public spaces for future generations and provides the museum with more control, permanence and stability,” said County Executive Chris Abele in a statement.
After an effort to sell the O’Donnell parking garage and public park above it to Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance failed in 2015, Milwaukee County considered a bid from the Milwaukee Art Museum.
MAM will assume responsibility for maintenance of the Kahler building, including the recently constructed East Addition, portions of the Saarinen Building it occupies, and the O’Donnell Park garage, along with the 9-acre O’Donnell Park above the garage. It becomes the leaseholder of the Betty Brinn Children’s museum and Coast restaurant as well, located in the Miller Pavilion within the park.
The Milwaukee County War Memorial will become responsible for maintaining the portions of the Saarinen Building that it occupies, including the large open pavilion overlooking Lake Michigan. The nonprofit organization also plans a $1.8 million renovation of the building’s Memorial Hall meeting space.
“This agreement saves Milwaukee County an estimated $28 million in deferred maintenance and future costs, and will cut in half our annual subsidy for the Milwaukee Art Museum after 2023,” said Theodore Lipscomb, Sr., County Board Chairman. “This is a good deal for taxpayers and promotes the use and enjoyment of Milwaukee County’s lakefront property for the benefit of the public.”
The Milwaukee Art Museum is expected to gain new revenue from the O’Donnell Park garage, which is popular among museum patrons, and has promised to make significant improvements to the garage and the park space above it.