In Living

A view of the soon-to-be park from inside the soon-to-be-razed Melanec's Wheel House. (PHOTO: Spencer Chumbley)

Former Wheel House site to become natural landscape

It took seven years for Kimberly Gleffe's dream to take root, but at the end of 2009, it is finally developing -- or undeveloping, in this case.

Gleffe, who is the executive director of the River Revitalization Foundation, had a vision to create accessible green space on the bank of the Milwaukee river near Commerce Street.

Seven years ago, Gleffe and her staff began working with the owners of Melanec's Wheelhouse Mystery Dinner Theater, 2178 N. Riverboat Rd., on a purchase agreement. Five years ago, the restaurant shuttered its doors, and the group finally bought the 2.8 acres of land, including 624 feet of river frontage, in December 2009.

This year, the group plans to have the building razed and parking lot removed and start the process of creating a riverfront park.

Gleffe says the plans include extensive habitat restoration, including the planting of native plants and trees, the creation of a habitat for endangered garter snakes, improvement of the water quality and possibly the addition of a canoe launch and access to nearby trails.

Of course, all of the plans are contingent on fundraising. The group still needs $300,000 to pay off the land. Overall, the project requires $1.6 million, but the group has already received $1.1 million in grants from the Department of Natural Resources and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

The River Revitalization Foundation was founded in 1994, and Gleffe has served as executive director for eight years. The foundation has three staff members and an 18-member board.

The foundation's mission is to establish a parkway for public access, walkways, recreation and education, bordering Milwaukee's three major rivers -- the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic. The group also wants to use the rivers to revitalize surrounding neighborhoods and to improve water quality.

Currently, the organization is launching a major fundraising campaign to raise the rest of the money needed for the project, is looking for volunteers and planning multiple community events as part of a public kick-off on or near Earth Day.

Gleffe says most of the revitalization will take place in 2011. She acknowledges this is a long-term project, but one that's going to improve the quality of life for the 200,000 people living within a mile of the area.

"It's adding green space in a dense urban area," says Gleffe. "It will be a respite from urban life."


Talkbacks

Z_boy | Jan. 27, 2010 at 4:04 p.m. (report)

The idea of a green space is fantastic. I can't wait to the final results. Best of luck on your funding.

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DavidP | Jan. 27, 2010 at 2:21 p.m. (report)

A canoe launch would be fantastic.

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schumbley | Jan. 27, 2010 at 2:02 p.m. (report)

That building is not any sort of architectural wonder and it has been a blight to the neighborhood. The inside is completely trashed and there is extensive water damage from the leaking roof. River front Park and transition point from the planned Riverwalk to urban wilderness trails [or] an ugly cinder block building or another condo. You decide.

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Al Czervic | Jan. 27, 2010 at 1:46 p.m. (report)

Nice effort I guess, but we already have tons of greenspace along the river. Too bad the Wheelhouse couldn't have made a better go of it as we just lose another cool piece of Milwaukee history.

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