Milwaukee Art Museum Offers to Buy O'Donnell Property

Milwaukee Art Museum announced it has made an offer to acquire the O’Donnell Property and its multi-level parking garage from Milwaukee County.

Under the terms of the proposal, the Museum will assume $28.8 million in liabilities in a non-cash transaction in which the Museum will take ownership of the O’Donnell Property.

The deal also includes a transfer in ownership of the Kahler Building (inclusive of the new East Addition) and the space within the Saarinen Building, currently occupied by the Museum, to the Museum. The Milwaukee Art Museum will assume full responsibility for the county’s current 84-year obligation for capital maintenance and repair for those facilities, valued in today’s dollars at $28.8 million of county-taxpayer obligations. 

“We think this proposal is good for county taxpayers and good for the community,” said Dan Keegan, Milwaukee Art Museum Director. “The proposal relieves county taxpayers of a long-term commitment, provides permanence and stability for the Museum, and ensures that future generations will have public access to the lakefront for years to come.”

In addition, the Museum will assume the cost burden for structural repairs and maintenance needed to maintain the O’Donnell Property. The Museum has plans to transform the garage into a state-of-the-art parking facility after making all deferred repairs, including replacing a rubber membrane on the roof of the parking garage and plaza that has been leaking. Costs of other deferred maintenance are estimated at an additional $5.4 million. The Museum will also install the latest automated prepay booths and provide electronic signs, more lights and 24-hour security.

Aesthetic improvements will be made to the public park area and will be determined once designs for other lakefront projects are finalized, including the Lakefront Gateway, Couture and footbridge over Michigan Avenue connecting Couture and O’Donnell. 

“This partnership preserves public ownership of the land for future generations, ensures continued public access and exercise of free speech while maximizing the economic value to the taxpayer today,” said Theodore A. Lipscomb, Sr., Milwaukee County Board Chairman.

The O’Donnell Property includes an upper plaza with two pavilions and two separate open spaces at the east end of Wisconsin Ave. The three-story Miller Brewing Pavilion is home to the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum and Coast Restaurant operated by the Zilli Hospitality Group.

The Museum will honor those existing leases as part of the transaction.

The Museum will create a capital reserve fund with revenue generated from the O’Donnell parking facility that is expected to cover the costs of maintaining and repairing all structures of what will now be a museum campus of buildings including the garage.

The terms of the proposal will go before the Milwaukee County Finance Committee on Thursday, March 10 and before the County Board for a vote on Thursday, March 17.  

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