Editor’s note: This story has been updated to more clearly reflect the costs of repairing and rebuilding The Domes.
The Mitchell Park Horticulture Conservatory, better known as the Milwaukee Domes, has long been an iconic structure in Milwaukee.
Originally a private greenhouse attached to the Mitchell family mansion, The Domes became a staple on Milwaukee’s skyline in 1967 when construction on the final building was completed.
A report recommends the buildings be demolished.
Here’s what you need to know about The Domes’ potential demolition and past repairs.
What did the report say?
The Gallagher Museum Services conducted the report, which examined the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory and the possibility of integrating the Milwaukee Public Museum with The Domes.
The report recommends demolishing The Domes. A new facility for the Milwaukee Public Museum would be built with the potential for a greenhouse to be attached.
The Milwaukee Public Museum is working on a $100 million campaign for its new facility. A combined facility would cost at least $300 million, according to estimates by Gallagher Museum Services.
What is going to happen?
At this point, no official decision has been made.
The Domes are considered a park facility, which means the county board must approve the changes. If The Domes and the Milwaukee Public Museum were to integrate, there could be a change in governance.
County Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez, a member of the Domes Task Force, is against the demolition. Ortiz-Velez represents the 12th District, which includes Mitchell Park, where The Domes are located.
“My position is to restore and repair the domes,” Ortiz-Velez said.
Ortiz-Velez, who grew up on the South Side, said she is open to the idea of having the new Milwaukee Public Museum facility built in Mitchell Park.
Last year, Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic and County Executive Chris Abele said they are open to the possibility of building a new space for the Milwaukee Public Museum in Mitchell Park.
The Domes Task Force has requested its own study and is awaiting those results.
How much would it cost to repair the Domes?
To put things in perspective, the original cost for The Domes reached $4.5 million. Construction began in 1959 and ended in 1967, which allowed the county time to raise the funds.
In 2006, the blast on Falk Corp.’s property in the Menomonee Valley killed several people and damaged the glass structures of The Domes. Two years later, repairs were made with the aid of $500,000 in donations.
In 2016, all three domes were closed for repairs. Pieces of concrete had fallen in 2008 and 2015. As part of the fix, wire mesh was installed inside the glass structure. At the time of the re-opening, Abele said that the fixes were only a temporary fix.
What do The Domes mean to Milwaukee?
When the project began in 1955, 33 architects competed to design the conservatory. Donald L. Grieb, an architect based in Milwaukee, won the competition.
In 2017, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named The Domes a National Treasure.
Ian Bautista, the executive director of the Clarke Square Neighborhood Initiative and member of The Domes Task Force, said The Domes are intimately intertwined with the culture and identity of Clarke Square and Milwaukee. He believes their removal would have a negative psychological effect on the neighborhood.
Jonathan Jacobs says
I am excited about the possibilities. The Domes are an icon for Milwaukee and Milwaukee County. I think that it is a terrific idea to combine the Domes and the Public Museum. I anxiously await the study results of the Domes Task Force. With the ongoing development of the Menomonee Valley, Three Bridges Park and The County Greenhouse the area is ripe for further evolution. I think that the project numbers for any of the scenarios already presented could be used to push for an integrated design using the creativity of designers, architects and engineers. This would further develop a premier public space for all to enjoy. Look at what the Calatrava did for the Art Museum and the Lake Front. I bet that just as the Domes introduced sustainable – state of the art structure so the the evolution could be just as cutting edge for the 21st Century.
Wenona Gardner says
Southside is a very bad location for our Public Museum. Our Public Museum makes much more sense downtown with hotels, restaurants, stores, and events. South side really does not have none of that. Downtown is much better located for Tourists.
Thomas Spellman says
Considering 200,000,000 vs 60,000,000 to fix Humm what is hard about that?? The question still is how long is the fix good for. That same as the new one then it is a no brainer but then again we know who we are dealing with. What is it with building a new museum Who wants that property? Is the next thing to get rid of the Library?? It is an old building as well. Loosing the museum just may be a bigger loss considering it space. Peace Tom Spellman
– I feel like this article wouldn’t have even been made if they just sued the Falk Corporation for incurring the initial damage that sprouted this mess. It is unfortunate that lives were lost, however it would have been well within the Domes’ right to do so.
Wenona Gardner says
I think relocating the Milwaukee Public Museum to the south side is a very bad idea. Tourists can better find the Milwaukee Public Museum in its current location downtown including with lots of downtown buses. In addition, museum goers can then go to other stores, restaurants, and events in downtown Milwaukee. That is not true with the 27th Street and National Avenue area that by comparing to downtown does not offer the same places. I can’t see tourists bothering to go to 27th and National area just for the Museum because it is not an ideal location.
Bad idea to demolish the Domes which is an iconic National Treasure.
Elizabeth R. says
I respectfully disagree with you, Wenona Gardner. The beautification of Milwaukee’s near south side – a historically distressed area where residents and business owners are collaborating to rebuild their community into a safe and thriving area – would seriously be impaired if the Domes were to be removed. For several years, the City has designated funds and resources to rebuild this area of Milwaukee, and the removal of the Domes would ultimately be a waste of taxpayer dollars. And as for tourists not “bothering to go to 27th and National” . . . Disagree with you there as well. As the near south side continues to work on rebuilding this “blighted” area, there continues to be more public attractions (public murals, community gardens, restaurants, family-owned shops, boutiques, etc.) drawing outsiders – INCLUDING the Domes. Relocating MPM to this area would further attract visitors, beautify the area, support local business development, and ultimately create a safer place to live.
Michael Connor says
Currently, the decision to repair or replace the Domes resides with the County. Replacement is more than the county/taxpayers can afford. Repair remains the most likely result of a county board decision.
The renaissance that MKE is experiencing involves restoration, relocation and creation of iconic and new structures. Better for the MPM to accomplish its goal of a new building and location without the Domes as a tag-along solution.
What then for the Domes?
First, a change in governance; Friends of the Domes takes the role.
Let the determination for repair, replacement and location come from FOD who will be responsible for raising the funds for their decision.
Second, seek an architectural contest for a new design along with its cost and compare that to the cost of complete repair.
Third, if Mitchell Park is the site, then enhance that park with amenities such as a concert stage, picnic under the stars, etc.
Fourth, a non-binding referendum for the public to decide on governance that results in a public-private partnership.
Marilynn Weiland says
I would love to see the Museum relocate to Mitchell Park. Downtown is getting too congested and parking is a headache. Mitchell Park has tons of parking, especially good for school buses. School buses downtown block traffic. Mitchell Park is also on a bus line. Having two venues to visit at the same location is a plus, and also brings people closer to the Urban Ecology Center and Three Bridges Park. Other amenities would follow additional development.
Virginia Small says
RE: How much would it cost to repair the Domes?
The most recent study of repair costs of the Domes, done in 2017 as a peer review of earlier engineering studies, established that long-term repairs to stop water seepage would cost a fraction of what is reported above.
Excerpts: “Stopping water leakage via several measures would be the key to cost-effectively saving them, according to a report presented Wednesday night.
Preventing moisture seepage was the primary goal of a proposed $18.6-million repair option presented to the Domes Task Force. Wiss Jenney Elstner Associates (WJE) was commissioned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to conduct a peer review of the latest study by GRAEF about options and costs. Milwaukee Magazine reported on WJE’s recommended approach Wednesday.
After a detailed slide show, task force members posed questions about the proposal, which incorporates and expands upon a $14-million option offered by GRAEF, an engineering firm contracted by the county to work on this and other projects.
In addition to replacing about 400 cracked glass panes, WJE would install all new metal “pressure caps,” which form links between the glass-and-aluminum cladding and precast concrete framing. A waterproof sealant would add further weather protection. Any potentially spalling concrete would be removed and repaired, and the custom water-filtration system would be cleaned.”
RE: parking in latest proposal. It suggests an additional 400-space parking lot, which could take up to about three acres of parkland, in addition to many acres for whatever the building footprint would be.