The Milwaukee RiverWalk celebrated its international award from the Urban Land Institute for global excellence with community leaders and supporters who developed the landmark attraction over the past two decades on March 22 at the Stock House in Schlitz Park.

Speakers at the event included Gary Grunau, former Mayor John Norquist, Alyssa Remington, Marsha Sehler, Peter Park, and Mayor Tom Barrett, along with other key members who formed, guided, and implemented the RiverWalk project.

The Urban Land Institute Global (ULI) recognized the Milwaukee RiverWalk with its 2017-2018 Global Award of Excellence, a significant international honor considered among the world’s higest from land use experts.

“Going through this award process gave me a more global outlook,” said Grunau, long-time chair of the Milwaukee Riverwalk District. “Having the jury here, on the river, and bringing back all of these old buddies that helped you 20 years ago, it offered a deep sense of appreciation for the time we invested in this project.”

The Riverwalk was one of thirteen development projects in North America, Europe, and Asia to receive this recognition. It also marks the first time a Wisconsin project has been named a Global Award of Excellence winner.

The Milwaukee RiverWalk winds through the heart of the city, tying together three distinct riverfront neighborhoods, the Historic Third Ward, Downtown, and Beerline B. In 1993 a dedicated committee of downtown visionaries dreamed big. They formed the Milwaukee RiverWalk District and teamed up with the City of Milwaukee.

“This award celebrates a great amenity in our city, and it also honors the people who have worked to make the RiverWalk such an asset,” said Milwaukee Barrett. “The RiverWalk continues to expand because it adds to property values, to the attractiveness of real estate near the river, and, most importantly, it adds to our quality of life.”

After an investment of $52 million over two decades, the RiverWalk adjacent properties combined are now estimated to be worth $1 billion. RiverWalk connects more than 20 blocks from its northernmost to southernmost points, with plans to extend 3.1 miles along both sides of the Milwaukee River into the Menomonee Valley. The system is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and is a public-private partnership between riverfront property owners and the City of Milwaukee.

The project redefined downtown Milwaukee, helped create one of the most successful redevelopment corridors in Wisconsin and a lively commercial, residential, entertainment, and recreation center. The cleanup was catalytic for advancing significant investment in downtown.

Area residents embraced the RiverWalk as a natural asset. Because people were invited to the water’s edge, imaginative additions of artwork depicting Milwaukee’s culture formed along side the currents. Developers transformed warehouses, tanneries, breweries, and an abandoned industrial corridor into luxury and affordable residential units, office space hotel rooms, performing arts centers, and dozens of riverfront businesses and restaurants.

These audio segments were recorded live during the ULI Award acceptance party, and the companion photos share the joy and pride of all those involved with transforming the heart of Milwaukee’s downtown.

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Lee Matz