Member Login Menu

Downtown Lakefront Revitalization

Milwaukee spent nine years and more than $200 million to transform its lakefront into a destination.

Location Information: Milwaukee, Wisconsin United States

GIS Data:

Project Type(s): Public Parks and Recreation

Project Owner/Agency: Port of Milwaukee, State of Wisconsin, Milwaukee County, Pier Wisconsin

Budget: Over $10,000,000

Envision Rating: Platinum


From 1998 to 2007, the port and city of Milwaukee, the state of Wisconsin, Milwaukee County and a host of private organizations worked with SmithGroupJJR engineers and landscape architects as the planning and design team for the revitalization of a mile of downtown lakeshore. The process overcame tremendous political, technical and financial challenges, resulting in the diversification of underutilized port lands, and the integration of two museums and Wisconsin's first urban state park with the Summerfest Festival Grounds - creating a dynamic cultural/tourist district.§ion=41

Triple Bottom Line

Economic: An inclusive planning process built partnerships that led to over $200 million in lakefront investment and a more cost-effective development effort. The effort leveraged private contributions along with funds from state DNR conservation and stewardship programs, federal transportation, highways and boating infrastructure programs, and the city of Milwaukee. Design and construction of the Port's Cruise Ship Center was fused with that of the park and maritime museum breakwater to save hundreds of thousands of dollars, keeping construction on budget and on schedule. State-of-the-art hydraulic modeling allowed the design team to optimize the design of breakwater elements and the park and museum shorelines while balancing technical, budgetary and aesthetic considerations.

Environmental: An emphasis on green and environmental design minimized hardscape throughout the park. Native landscaping reduces maintenance. Bio-retention areas filter stormwater runoff while providing new wetland habitat. Biodiversity has increased significantly since project completion and includes migratory birds as well as fox, mink, and other species. In addition to reusing portions of the existing offshore island, an arrangement was made with DOT to incorporate 80,000 cubic yards of fill from a highway interchange project. This extensive reuse of materials to reform the state park's island provided significant efficiencies and savings.

Social: A commitment to broad-based consensus building was key to success. Strong public facilitation brought together divergent groups and interests around a shared vision for the lakefront. The resulting partnerships played a critical role in implementation. The central public space for this revitalized waterfront is Lakeshore State Park, a 17-acre man-made island that represents Wisconsin's first urban state park and has completely transformed public access to Milwaukee's lakefront. Several other projects accompanied park development, including art museum expansion and shore protection, a maritime museum and cruise ship center, and linkages to the Oak Leaf and Hank Aaron State Trails.

Contact Information

Fred Klancnik, P.E., F.ASCE, Senior Vice President, Corporate Practice Leader