Monday, February 2, 2015

Citizen letter again raises O'Donnell Park issues

Activist Pat Small is among those trying to keep O'Donnell Park a Milwaukee County-owned public space. This letter has been sent to Milwaukee County Board officials and all supervisors. A vote to declare the park surplus, thus marketable, could happen Feb. 5th.
Maintaining O’Donnell Park is Spending Money to Keep Making Money--for Parks

In 2011, the parking facility at O’Donnell Park received a $5-million thorough restoration--fully reimbursed by a negligent contractor through a court settlement. The renovated parking structure was declared structurally sound by city inspectors before it reopened. It has since passed regular inspections.

But it still needs just one long-deferred repair of a small but persistent roof leak, which sometimes restricts access to just six parking spaces. With this repair, those spaces can generate their full income potential, adding to O’Donnell’s net annual revenue of at least $1.3 million.

As a career landlord, I know that deferring maintenance just prolongs headaches. This vexing roof defect has been on a repair list for two decades. It’s long overdue to be fixed and thus removed from discussion of O’Donnell Park. 

The other part of this proposed resolution calls for the creation of a task force to enhance the use of O’Donnell Park’s facilities. Although it’s already one of the biggest money-makers in our park system, there surely are ways to add income, and for O’Donnell to host more community events open to all.

As our cultural gateway, O’Donnell Park connects downtown to the lakefront. It’s the front porch and direct access to the Art Museum. It’s the perfect place to view or photograph the Calatrava, the lakefront, the cityscape and even fireworks. With Mark Di Suvero’s “sunburst” sculpture at its entrance, this park is the east end of Wisconsin Avenue, Milwaukee’s main street. NONE of these facts are subject to change for many years to come, regardless of any reconfiguration of nearby streets or new developments in the area. O’Donnell Park enjoys “pride of place.” It also has more facilities and amenities--and possibly trees--than any downtown Milwaukee park, and is second only to Juneau Park in size. It’s been Milwaukee’s “prospect park” since 1868.

O’Donnell Park already serves as an appealing destination for residents and tourists. After reviewing its operations, the task force can suggest ways to make O’Donnell even more inviting to users, and to contribute even more to the parks budget.

The oft-repeated canard that O’Donnell is not a “real park”--because it’s a plaza on top of a parking facility--is completely off-base. Many modern American parks are now efficiently—and lucratively--built above parking structures. No one in Chicago demeans Millennium Park. Instead, they brag about THEIR rooftop garden plaza.

I don’t know why O’Donnell Park became the derided “step-child” of OUR park system. Distortions and misinformation about its condition and usage should rightfully stop NOW. A facility with 900 monthly parkers—at full capacity—can hardly be called “surplus” or “underused.” 

It’s also used daily for lunch breaks, fine dining, photography, and museum visits and seasonally for weddings and other events. O’Donnell has great economic value as a multi-purpose public square, in a city with too few downtown parks.   

For the greater good, let’s give O’Donnell Park the civic respect it deserves. Let’s make sure it shines and is well maintained so that it continues to contribute millions in revenue to the park system. I thank all county supervisors who promote these worthy goals.  

Pat Small 1/27/2015 (Statement to the Milwaukee County PE& E Committee)

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