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A report released today suggests the Domes aren't worth the cost of repairs.

Report: Demolish Domes & combine replacement with Public Museum

A report released today recommends that the Domes (officially called the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory) be demolished and replaced with a new horticultural conservatory that would be paired with a new Milwaukee Public Museum in Mitchell Park on Milwaukee's South Side.

The report, commissioned by the MPM-Domes Joint Task Force and prepared by Washington, D.C.-based Gallagher & Associates Museum Services, says combining the two institutions on a single site, "could be a great guest experience which integrates the content and stories from Milwaukee Public Museum with the content and experience of the current Domes and Conservatory. Specifically, the natural history portion of the MPM storyline fits very nice with the Domes experiences."

The report also says that, "the cost of properly renovating the Domes greatly outweighs the benefit of doing so."

The recommendation from Gallagher and Associates is that the two institutions occupy a new 222,000-square foot building that could be linked to the Milwaukee County greenhouses, built in recent years to the east of the Domes, to create a 284,000-square foot facility.

"The new facility is 60 percent of the physical space of the two existing complexes, which would save approximately 200,000 square feet of building space and provides a very efficient yet very strong guest experience for Milwaukee County and its citizens."

Gallagher and Associates identified other museums around the world that "have successfully paired the experience of a natural history museum and the immersion of a conservatory or botanical garden," including examples in Houston, Los Angeles, Montreal and Singapore.

Gallagher also completed a report on potential future options and concepts for a new Milwaukee Public Museum last summer.

Built in the 1960s, the Domes replaced an earlier iron and glass conservatory designed by Henry C. Koch that occupied the site from 1898 until 1955.

They were temporarily closed in 2016 after falling concrete spurred concerns about their structural stability. concrete. In 2017, the National Trust for Historic Preservation declared the Domes a national treasure and said that they could be repaired.

The new report estimates the cost of its proposed plan at $300 million, including an endowment.

"Joining these two institutions would require ... a significant amount of planning and study ... to execute this plan. A site plan and design of the new facility will need to be conducted; a program and use plan will need to be introduced; a new operating/staff plan will need to be developed; the existing plants from the Domes and collection from MPM need to be transferred; a significant capital campaign will need to take place.

"However, we do think the long term opportunity exists to create a great cultural institution for Milwaukee County and its citizens."

In response to the report, Milwaukee County Parks issued a statement, saying that the Gallagher, "report and recommendation will be one of several options on the table for the task force and there's still a wide range of potential opportunities to consider for the future of the Domes and the Museum."

Milwaukee Public Museum's interim President and CEO Ellen Censky said in an email, "Today, the MPM-Domes Joint Task Force issued its report on the possibility of co-locating the Milwaukee Public Museum with the Domes at Mitchell Park. MPM has been proud to participate in this task force as we worked to find potential solutions that would preserve the integrity and fulfill the missions of both of these beloved public institutions.

"The process of determining the most ideal location for the museum's future home is just that – a process. The findings of this report have raised questions and important considerations that will inform our continued study of a new museum and represent another mile marker on the road to making that final determination."

Domes Director Sandy Folaron did not respond to a request for comment on the report.

Barbara Pahl, Senior Vice President, Field Services at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, following the release of this report:

"Demolition of the Mitchell Park Domes, an iconic symbol of Milwaukee and a National Treasure, would result in an irreparable loss for the community," said Barbara Pahl, senior vice president, field services at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "The public has overwhelmingly voiced their support for protecting these local landmarks from disinvestment, destruction and demolition. With support from the County Board of Supervisors, the Domes Task Force is currently preparing detailed reports on two options – targeted investments and destination attraction – neither of which would include demolition of the Domes. This ongoing work is critical to making an informed decision on a preservation solution for the Domes.

"The National Trust and the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, founders of the Save Our Domes Coalition, firmly believe a future for the Domes based on preservation and rehabilitation would be the most cost-effective and environmentally-sustainable approach."

The report will be sent to task force members on Monday and will be discussed at the Parks, Energy and Environment Committee at 1 p.m. on Tuesday. Gallagher and Associates will make a presentation at that meeting.

The meeting will also include a report from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, requested by the County Board of Supervisors, on the feasibility of the Domes receiving historic tax credits.


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