On January 29, 2016, a fallen chunk of concrete was discovered in one of the Mitchell Park Domes, thus kicking off a heated and increasingly confusing battle over the fate of the beloved-but-aging Milwaukee landmarks. Need help staying current on that battle? Of course you do, which is why we’ve compiled the following up-to-date timeline. (The Shepherd Express has a thorough timeline of the events leading up to the current controversy.)
January 29: A fallen chunk of concrete is discovered in the Arid Dome, a.k.a. the “Desert Dome.” The dome is closed, and the saga begins.
February 5: All three Domes are closed for the weekend.
February 8: Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele announces the Domes will be closed indefinitely. He puts the cost of refurbishing the Domes somewhere between $65 and $75 million. Abele’s opponent for the County Executive post, Chris Larson, issues a press release: “I call on Chris Abele and regional leaders to join me in committing to do whatever it takes to keep our Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee for the next generation.” Larson later puts the cost of repairing all three domes closer to $45 million.
February 9: A sketchy GoFundMe campaign to “Save the Domes” quickly appears, and just as quickly disappears. Later, a real GoFundMe campaign, created by the Friends of the Domes, pops up. As of March, the campaign has raised less than $5,000.
February 16: BizTimes reports that “since 2006, Milwaukee County has spent more than twice as much money to operate and maintain the Mitchell Park Domes than they have generated.” Furthermore, “on average, the Domes cost the county more than $1.6 million per year to keep open, but make only $736,000—a deficit of more than $900,000 per year.”
February 22: Abele announces plans to reopen the Show Dome by May 1. A previously discussed safety netting system will be used as a short-term fix.
February 24: The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors holds a public hearing at the annex greenhouse next to the Domes. Abele does not attend due to a prior commitment with the Boys & Girls Club of America Board of Governors. Dozens of people speak out in support of the Domes, including Larson: “If elected leaders can afford to spend millions on an arena for out-of-state billionaires, we can afford to preserve and protect cultural institutions important to our community. Every family deserves access to a quality park. That’s our legacy, and that’s my promise.”
February 26: Unimpeachable and mustachioed Milwaukee historian John Gurda writes a column for the Journal Sentinel entitled “It’s time to re-imagine the Mitchell Park Domes.” Despite a slightly misleading title, Gurda comes out in support of the Domes and dishes out a terrific history lesson in the process. (Reminder: If you discuss Milwaukee history without first consulting John Gurda, he’ll sneak into your bedroom at night and break your goddamn kneecaps.)
February 27: Bay View beer bar Sugar Maple announces its upcoming eight-year anniversary will double as a fundraiser for the Domes. The event is scheduled for April 3 from noon until 5 p.m.
March 1: In a chat with the Journal Sentinel‘s Daniel Bice, Abele reveals he’s open to tearing down the Domes: “It’s a realistic option. Put it this way: If the public says, ‘Hey, we don’t want to spend—of the finite box of funding we have—we don’t want to spend…$75 million,’ I’m not going to tell them they’re wrong. […] When the Domes replaced the Victorian conservatory that was there before, I’m sure there were plenty of people who bemoaned the loss of the Victorian conservatory and saw these new, modern McDonald’s-y domes as, oh, it was heresy. […] I’m sure whatever we do, if it’s change, there’ll be people who will be nostalgic about what was.”
In the same chat, Larson continues his support of the Domes: “As a Milwaukee County resident and somebody who’s lived here his whole life, I have the same reaction I think a lot of my neighbors did, which is, like, ‘This is a part of our soul, of who we are as Milwaukee County.'”
March 8: The Milwaukee County Board approves $500,000 for short-term repairs to the Show Dome. An additional $500,000 allocated for repairs back in 2015 will also be used. The Show Dome is expected to reopen May 1. The Tropical Dome is estimated to reopen by August 1, and the Arid Dome by September 1.
Abele announces the formation of a “Domes Long-Term Planning Steering Committee” that will “help seek public input and create a vision for a facility which serves the needs of a broad spectrum of Milwaukee County residents and organizations, as well as create recommendations on how to proceed.” Clark Square Initiative, Journey House, Friends of the Domes, Visit Milwaukee, and NEWaukee are announced as members of the committee. The committee will report its findings in September.
March 9: Larson issues a press release: “Abele’s announcement regarding the Domes Steering Committee further demonstrates that his approach is a story of two public projects: the Bucks arena deal and the Domes. When the Bucks owners wanted a new arena, Abele sprang into action with no public hearings and no concern for cost. Milwaukee County taxpayers are now committed to paying $80 million dollars over twenty years with no dedicated funding source. If you compare the rushed Bucks deal with the Mitchell Park Domes you see this sudden change in attitude. Instead of acting quickly like he did on the arena, Abele ignored his own Parks director and dragged his feet on installing nets in the Domes to catch falling debris. There were no public listening sessions on the Bucks deal but now Abele says he wants to have listening sessions on the Domes.”
March 16: An Urban Milwaukee piece details two official—and possibly conflicting—efforts to save the Domes: Abele’s “Steering Committee,” which will be headed up by urban design professional Larry Witzling and will cost as much as $30,000; and a county board-led task force, which will include “the county’s parks director (John Dargle, Jr.); the District 12 county supervisor (where the Domes are located); chair of the parks, energy, and environment committee; chair of the Milwaukee County Parks Advisory Commission; a Friends of the Domes representative; ‘two members of local community organizations representative of the diversity of Milwaukee County;’ and one additional member appointed by the county board chair as the task force’s chair.”