Rethink 794 group wants new downtown plan – Milwaukee Business Journal – The Business Journals

Advocates who argue Interstate 794’s bridges in Milwaukee should be torn down to make way for more urban neighborhoods are encouraging the concept be included in the city’s updated long-range plan for downtown.
The city is updating that long-range plan for the downtown area to guide redevelopment efforts for the next two decades. A draft plan will be done next year, but early concepts are being released Wednesday and shown at an open house in the 3rd St. Market Hall on West Wisconsin Avenue.
The Rethink I-794 in Milwaukee coalition is using social media to encourage people to attend, and hopes its concept of removing the interstate bridges between Sixth Street and Lincoln Memorial Drive can be considered, said Gregg May, transportation policy director for 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.
“We hope Rethink 794 inspires a larger conversation with the community about what is possible in downtown Milwaukee,” May said. “Our team would like the city of Milwaukee to study the idea, see what is feasible, and build a vision that is reflective of goals and desires of the surrounding neighborhoods.”
The ongoing process of updating the downtown area plan will include rethinking the areas around Interstate 794. Recommendations for that area could be included in a draft plan that will be released next year.
Those recommendations will hinge partially on the state of Wisconsin’s separate planning process for I-794.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is in the midst of a study considering options for I-794 where it connects to the Lake Interchange, and this summer held more than 20 meetings with stakeholders. Several of the bridge spans between I-794 and the Lake Interchange are reaching the end of their useful life and would require replacement.
The DOT could release reconstruction options in early 2023. Those would explore replacing bridges as-is, potential changes to on and off ramps, or removing the freeway entirely to replace with an at-grade street, according to a study overview the DOT published in October.
Studies by Rethink 794 suggest that removing a stretch of I-794 and routing drivers to existing city streets would open 32.5 acres of publicly owned land under the interstate bridges for redevelopment. That land could generate $1.5 billion in new property value, according to Rethink 794.
Taylor Korslin, a Milwaukee resident and architect and member of Rethink 794, created a video of renderings of what that could look like.
“Whether it looks like our project, or a is totally different boulevard, doesn’t matter to us, let’s just have the conversation,” May said. “The downtown plan update is the perfect place to start.”
May said efforts to include I-794 in the downtown plan revision stem partially from feedback the Rethink 794 organization received from former Milwaukee city planner Peter Park. Park was planner when Milwaukee’s 1999 strategic plan recommended removing the Park East freeway spur north of downtown. Removal of the Park East freeway spur was approved by state and city officials that year, resulting in its demolition in 2002. That area has since seen redevelopments including Fiserv Forum and the North End apartment community.
Park was an advocate for removing freeways from downtown, and even had a class of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee architecture students in 1995 study the redevelopment potential of removing I-794 bridges.
“We’re hoping to replicate and learn from what Peter succeeded on,” May said regarding the Park East freeway spur’s demolition. “The overarching goal of our campaign is to show there is public support for the idea, and articulate a belief and an idea we believe is in the community.”
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