Monday, November 17, 2014

Citizen opposition to County Board sale of O'Donnell Park

As this blog serves as a forum for political and environmental discussion, I am pleased to post a link to a piece by blogger Eddee Daniel and also to reprint this statement from activist Pat Small about the possible sale by the Milwaukee County Board of O'Donnell Park to Northwestern Mutual, as it focuses on significant community issues and proposes alternatives to the sale, as proposed:
Preserve the public’s stake in O’Donnell Park in Downtown Milwaukee.

There are many reasons to reject the sale of O’Donnell Park to Northwestern Mutual Life. 
  • Parks are held in trust for the public’s benefit. If this deal closes, Milwaukee County citizens will lose all rights to this land legacy, not just the structures on it. The public will have no further say in the park’s continued operations or its future designed use. 
  • Regardless of promises a proposed buyer makes regarding “public access,” private owners can do what they want with their property. The only way that the public can retain its stake in the future of O’Donnell Park is if the public holds ownership of the land, as required in long-standing deed restrictions. 
  • O’Donnell Park has been repeatedly maligned as just a bleak garage with no intrinsic value. In fact, it is a 9.3-acre, multi-use park with a panoramic view of our Great Lake. It’s a popular setting for weddings, strolling, lunching, relaxing , and museum visits. It is the gateway from Downtown to our treasured lakefront and “emerald necklace.” 
  • The land now called O’Donnell Park was set aside for the common good beginning in 1868. Current and future residents deserve to enjoy it in the public domain for another 146 years and longer.
  • A short-sighted sale of O’Donnell Park will rob the public of future possibilities that visionary citizens and leaders may have for re-imagining this priceless public land. Think Millennium Park. Whatever a private owner builds must only suit their needs and purposes. 
  • Public parks drive economic development and eco-tourism, and increase property values, so preserving and supporting them makes sense economically. 
  • Most parks generate little, if any, revenue. But O’Donnell Park nets more than $1 million a year. Selling it is both unnecessary and a bad deal for taxpayers. Creating a “$5 million parks fund” from the sale’s net proceeds will not replenish the lost annual income that now supports urgent upkeep of all county parks. 
  • Most appalling, the paltry $12.7 million sale price is based only on revenue from the park’s leased facilities. It does not factor in the value of the highly desirable land (estimated at $40 million) or the value of the public’s $36 million investment in building the park and its facilities. Do the math.
  • If this unprecedented sale is executed, how will citizens and civic leaders ever stave off other schemes to privatize county or city parks?
Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors: Reject this ill-advised sale. Negotiate a lease instead. Or create a conservancy agreement that ensures that the park remains a public space in perpetuity. 
Don’t abdicate stewardship of this public asset. Don’t make a big mistake on our Great Lake!  Your constituents deserve better.
Pat Small 

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