Back in October, we paid a visit to the Mitchell Park Domes. It was an enjoyable and informative visit, full of Halloween decorations, tropical vistas, and no people. The Domes were so bereft of fellow visitors, in fact, that we quickly determined, “Hey Milwaukee, if you want to save the Domes you should probably start going to the Domes.”
Yes, ever since the Tropical Dome, Show Dome, and so-called Desert Dome were closed in February (after a chunk of fallen concrete was discovered in the latter), a long and convoluted saga has sprung up around the aging wonders. Now, with all three Domes once again up and running, there’s a sudden burst of Dome-y action. Here’s all the shit that’s happening with the Domes this week:
• Second meeting of the Domes Task Force
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele’s aptly named Domes Task Force will meet for the second time Wednesday, November 30, at 5:30 p.m. (at the Domes, natch). The public is invited to attend. The first Task Force meeting, back in October, was more of throat clearing than anything else, though some eye-opening figures were tossed around. Per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Replacing the 50-year-old and deteriorated horticultural domes at Mitchell Park with a new conservatory would cost millions of dollars less than full restoration of their current beehive shapes, Milwaukee County officials said in releasing preliminary price estimates to a task force assigned to recommend one option to the County Board and County Executive Chris Abele.
Just substituting all 9,400 single-pane windows in the three domes with more energy-efficient double panes and weather seals would cost $14 million or more, county facilities management director Jeremy Theis said.
And that bill would not pay for: repairing and recoating internal concrete-beam frame of each dome; replacing the total 5,100 metal pegs and plates connecting windows to frames; and fixing a gutter drain system designed to carry condensation away from the insides of the windows to protect the concrete. Most connections already are rusted, and many drains are clogged. Many windows are cracked and leaking.
Doing all those things and reconstructing the lower level of each dome pushes the full restoration price beyond $70 million and it could reach $80 million, Theis said.
• Domes’ grand reopening party
On Thursday, December 1, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Domes will throw an all-day grand reopening party. Floral shows, flower cutting ceremonies, music from the Latino Arts Strings Program, and a “Let There Be Light” holiday concert at noon are some of the highlights. Northwestern Mutual is picking up the tab for the free event. Chris Abele will be hosting.
• Abele talks Domes with OnMilwaukee
Speaking of Abele, the County Exec recently chatted with OnMilwaukee about the future of all Milwaukee County parks. The Domes, of course (along with Pokemon), came up. Here’s what he had to say:
“We’ve had many meetings and conversations discussing options and estimating costs. We know the opportunity for people to learn about botany and biology continues and is important, but the big question is does it make sense to do the same thing there? We’ve also thought about having the zoo fill these needs. Millions more people already go to the zoo, and there’s a ton of parking that’s highly visible.
“If we were going to build a new dome, it certainly wouldn’t be the worst place to think about it. But again, it’s going to be about what the community wants. Regardless, if we don’t have the vehicle registration fee, it’s difficult to see how we’d be able to pay for it.”
• Domes strangely absent from Milwaukee tourism sites
As detailed by Virginia Small for Urban Milwaukee, the Domes are curiously left out—or relegated to the sidelines—of many Milwaukee tourism sites. According to Small, the Domes aren’t listed in Visit Milwaukee’s 2016 Official Visitors Map or Visitors Guide, and are given “short shrift” on the organization’s website. Muses Small:
It’s mystifying that a public-owned attraction that drew 240,000 visitors in 2015 is getting “stepchild” treatment in Milwaukee tourism promotions—regardless of who is calling the shots. After all, PlanetWare, “travel guides by experts,” lists the Domes as seventh among Milwaukee’s “Top Ten Tourist Attractions.” In 2014 the Domes ranked 12th among Milwaukee attractions by attendance.
Other factors could be influencing the Domes’ loss of limelight. Online commenters sometimes say the Domes are located in the wrong place—that they should somehow be moved or rebuilt on the Lakefront. That Downtown-centric notion implies that visitors cannot—or should not–be drawn to the ethnically rich and centrally located near South Side.
• Domes in Vogue?
Never fear, because in a recent Facebook post, Abele gives a shout-out to that Milwaukee-mentioning Vogue article everyone has been passing around (Great job, Milwaukee!), and suggests “readers fly into Mitchell Airport, check out the Mitchell Park Domes, take a trip to the Milwaukee County Zoo, and visit some of our beautiful Milwaukee County Parks!”
• No more “Music Under Glass”
Oh, and according to Urban Milwaukee, the Domes’ ever-popular “Music Under Glass” program has been shelved for 2016-2017.