Reimagining the future of Mitchell Park
The Mitchell Park Domes are iconic, but dated. The time has come to chart a new path forward.
The Domes of the Mitchell Park Conservatory have been a Milwaukee landmark for generations, but we have reached an inflection point. The cost to operate and maintain the facility continues to rise and deferred maintenance projects are piling up. We have a building that has outlived its expected lifespan and financial path that is no longer viable. Changes are needed.
So what comes next? Repair and preserve this Milwaukee institution? Focus on other needs? Leave our own stamp on history by developing a new facility and legacy for future generations to enjoy? We’re working hard to make that decision and invite you to be a part of the process. We all have a connection to this unique space and a role to play in ensuring that the elements that have made it so special to past generations will continue to inspire those to come.
What Does Success Look Like?
Protect the diverse plant collection
The mission of the Mitchell Park Conservatory is to “inspire people through plants.” While the facility itself is unique, it’s what’s inside that matters most. Mitchell Park was a horticultural destination long before the iconic Domes were constructed and we hope it will remain a center for connecting with plants long into the future, regardless of the path we take.
Preserve Mitchell Park as a healthy resource for Milwaukee
Milwaukee County’s vision is to become the healthiest county in the state, and we know that safe public spaces, access to nature, and exposure to plant life all have benefits to mental and physical health. Mitchell Park is a community asset that we have a responsibility to maintain.
Create opportunities for future generations to be inspired by nature just as the Domes have inspired us
No two generations will share the exact same life experiences. Time and progress march on. But if we think back to what has made the Domes special to us – school trips, time spent with family, an introduction to the splendor of the natural world – we can begin to envision what type of reimagined space will still check those boxes for visitors in the decades ahead.
Achieve fiscal responsibility
The Mitchell Park Conservatory Domes are costly to operate and costly to maintain. While the futuristic look may cast an impression of efficiency, the reality is that it’s one of the most expensive properties in the entire Milwaukee County Parks system to operate, and the deferred maintenance projects that are necessary for us to continue keeping the building afloat are piling up. For us to ensure that the vision for the Domes prevails, and that future generations can continue to be inspired by the wonders inside just as we have been, we need to chart a new path forward that involves a more sustainable funding model with more tenable operations and maintenance costs.
A Monumental Choice
The Conservatory is a source of pride for Milwaukee but it does mean different things to different people. Are we interested in restoring the structures or are there more aspects to Mitchell Park worth the maintenance investment? Something has to be done, a decision needs to be made. There’s definitely options and it’s time that we choose a direction with confidence and move forward.See all videos
Deferred maintenance needs across the Milwaukee County Parks system in 2022
In 2022, the Milwaukee County Parks had a backlog of deferred maintenance projects that would collectively cost $500 million. The deferred maintenance needs of the Mitchell Park Conservatory are contributing to that number.
Fewer full-time employees today than 1980
In the early ’80s, the Milwaukee County Parks were cared for by 1,300 full-time employees, but decades of budget cuts have led to a vast reduction in staff – now just 283 full-time team members.
Monthly tax per Milwaukee County resident this year funding the parks
Milwaukee County residents contribute an average of $1.89 per month in taxes to support the parks. That $22.65 per resident each year equates to about $0.15 per year per park.
Acres of land overseen by the Milwaukee County Parks Department
Our 283 hard-working, full-time staff manage over 15,000 acres of land – that’s the equivalent of each staff member maintaining over 40 Lambeau Fields on their own.
Learn more about this process
In 2016, a Task Force was created to begin exploring various paths forward for the Domes at Mitchell Park Conservatory in the face of an uncertain future. That group, in partnership with Milwaukee County Parks leadership and the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors, has engaged experts, commissioned studies, explored best practices in other markets, met with stakeholders and community leaders, and much more to better understand the financial constraints and opportunities presented by various paths forward.
While each study has uncovered new insights and brought forth new ideas, there is still more to learn and understand. We are now at an inflection point, with rising operational costs and deferred maintenance needs making the current path untenable. We are enlisting top experts in the field to help assess our options, with the intention of formalizing a new vision for the future of the Domes structure and the Mitchell Park Conservatory later this year.