Large Downtown Dog Park Coming

Dog run would be built under freeway along the Milwaukee River.

A long-overlooked space underneath Interstate 794 will become a dog park for downtown residents and workers under a new plan from Milwaukee Downtown and the Historic Third Ward business improvement district.

Specifics on the final design are still being worked out, but the plans call for a dog run where dogs could be free to roam off-leash in a fenced-in area. “A dog run is an important amenity that will increase the quality of life and livability of Downtown given the thousands of new residential units added in recent years, along with dog-friendly hotels and a move towards flexible/dog-friendly office space,” said Milwaukee Downtown economic development director Matt Dorner in an interview with Urban Milwaukee. He said a 2019 survey of downtown stakeholders found that 71 percent of pet owners said better pet facilities in Downtown were “needed and important.”

The run will be constructed on state-owned land underneath the freeway between W. Clybourn St., W. St. Paul Ave., the Milwaukee River and N. Plankinton Ave. in Westown. The city will extend the Milwaukee RiverWalk south from W. Clybourn St. towards W. St. Paul Ave., a 320-foot segment, as part of the proposal. “This location really lends itself to this public amenity,” he said.

The nearest similar facilities are located in Bay View and Riverwest said Dorner, over three miles away. 

The hope is to open the facility at 103 W. Clybourn St. in the coming months. “While the current COVID-19 circumstances present some uncertainty and unpredictability, we hope to move the project forward with construction this summer. We will have to stay nimble, but are continuing to work diligently on the project,” he said.

The project would cost between $300,000 and $350,000 said Dorner, with the city investing an additional $200,000 in extending the riverwalk and creating street connections to it.

“I think this is a great project,” said area Alderman Robert Bauman when the riverwalk component was before a city committee earlier this month. “There has been a demand for this kind of use for many years.” The Common Council unanimously endorsed amending a tax-incremental financing district to build the extension, replace a riverwalk lift with a ramp at the Rexnord headquarters a block north, and another in Walker’s Point for the proposed Admiral’s Wharf apartment building.

“We believe this project, as it has in other communities, has a great opportunity to attract support from residents, businesses and corporate interest in sponsorships of different scales,” said Dorner. “As the lease agreements come together, the project team will turn its focus to highlighting these opportunities.” The plan calls for the Historic Third Ward business improvement district (BID), led by Paul Schwartz, to manage the property. Revenue from a parking lot under the freeway and along N. 2nd St., also managed by the BID, would be used to pay down debt associated with the project.

“I think this is an excellent plan and I certainly compliment [Milwaukee Downtown] for taking the laboring oar on this and bringing it to fruition,” said Bauman.

A privately-owned parcel to the south of the future dog-run site is not part of the proposal, but Bauman said he doesn’t support changing the zoning on the site to get whatever development can be found on the site. He said he was approached by a prospective purchaser that wanted to put a gas station on the site at 412 N. Plankinton Ave. “Needless to say, I said no. I don’t think a gas station would be a good use on the Milwaukee River,” said the alderman. The city has a good example of what that would look like; there is a decades-old one located just to the south.

Un-Blighting a Freeway

The project follows a 2019 effort to revamp a pedestrian tunnel under the freeway near N. Jefferson St. with a floor-to-ceiling mural.

Plans also are underway to add lighting under the highway along N. Broadway and revamped Pompeii Square park along N. Jackson St.

“All of these under freeway projects are part of a larger, comprehensive plan to increase connectivity between neighborhoods and enhance the quality of life and vibrancy of Downtown,” said Dorner.

The dog run isn’t the last thing planned. A similar vacant parcel exists on the east side of the river along N. Water St., but it is level and more suitable for immediate programming. “The intention is to build on the momentum and create an attractive public amenity which provides yet another example of connectivity and activity in areas that are under-utilized,” said Dorner. “We are still planning on final space modifications and improvements once consistent weather cooperates.”

Whether its concerts, recreational activities, food & beverage events or some other use, Dorner added, the goal is to make this space another example of filling a void for mixed-use public spaces in the Downtown and Third Ward  neighborhoods.

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