The City of Milwaukee chose a design for the Lakefront Gateway Plaza Project, with a focus on what they call “unprogrammed programs.”

It might not have been the most exciting way to spend Halloween, but over 30 city planners, designers and local residents gathered at Milwaukee County’s War Memorial on October 31 to discuss a key aspect of the city’s Lakefront development plans: the Lakefront Gateway Plaza Project.

The Lakefront Gateway Plaza will be located along a two-acre block in front of Discovery World, extending from Michigan Avenue past Clybourn Street. The project aims to make the area more friendly to pedestrians and cyclists, which will be achieved by adding a pedestrian bridge over Lincoln Memorial Drive. Through community meetings like the one on Halloween, the city determined that this was one of the most important wishes of the public.

“We’d like the community engagement,” said Greg Patin, strategic development manager of the city of Milwaukee office. “We’re trying to learn what would bring people in the community to the site. We’ve also been trying to not just go downtown for feedback because the lakefront is everyone’s lakefront. It belongs to the whole city.”

Construction will likely start in early 2017, but the entire project will not be completed for a few years. The design team purposefully crafted a piecemeal layout that can be established in parts, so certain features will be constructed sooner and fit together as development progresses.

The plaza is meant to draw attention to Milwaukee’s connection to Lake Michigan, especially through the installment of The Beacon. The piece of art resembles a lighthouse, recalling the area’s history as a pier.

Additionally, one of the central facets of the project is its water feature, which will change functionality throughout the seasons. In the summer it will be an interactive water playground for kids and in the winter it will be an ice-skating rink, with skates for rental in a kiosk imbedded in the bridge.

The water feature, in conjunction with the bridge, can also help control storm water. This aspect of sustainability was something the planning committee was looking for when they chose a winning team from the project’s design competition, which attracted national and international design teams. The winning team selected consisted of GRAEF, PFS Studios, Rinka Chung, DEW (Dan Euser) and NEWaukee.

“The reason we picked PFS Studios was because we wanted someone kind of like Kalatrava, that up and coming designer who you may not have heard of but is building a portfolio that is really impressive,” said Matt Dorner of Business Improvement District 21. “They also focused on sustainability and reclaiming storm water. And they can do it in cold weather climates.”

Part of the inspiration for the project was the lack of lakefront programming in winter. The Plaza Project hopes to make the lakefront a Milwaukee gathering place year round, with a focus on what they call “unprogrammed programs.” They looked to Chicago’s Millennium Park for inspiration.

“What makes Millennium Park great in Chicago is that it’s always on,” said Dorner. “No one has to come down, open the door, turn the key. It’s just there. We wanted to make sure our design was thoughtful to have unprogrammed programming so it can always be successful.”

Examples of unprogrammed programs include Packers game screenings at the outdoor big screen, spontaneous soccer games, farmers markets, a beer garden, coffee shop, and more. The water feature can also double as an amphitheater. The Plaza Project plans to plant trees to bring shade to the area, as well as construct built-in seating. All the efforts hope of make the plaza, according to Patin, the “front yard of Milwaukee.”

The Lakefront Gateway Plaza Project coincides with the brand-new development of the Couture building, which will be located across from the site, and the installment of the Milwaukee Streetcar project. The Plaza Project will include a bridge from the Couture to the Clybourn block, all meant to connect downtown to the lakefront, and the lakefront to the Third Ward.