HWTN joins civic leaders to preserve historic preservation

Milwaukee’s highly successful historic preservation ordinances are now under review by Mayor Tom Barrett and the Common Council following the debate over whether to preserve or demolish historically designated buildings for a proposed Marriott hotel on E. Wisconsin Avenue.

Historic Water Tower Neighborhood recently signed a letter with an impressive list of civic leaders to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett outlining the benefits of maintaining Milwaukee’s current ordinance.

The old Milwaukee Road railroad depot in Downtown, a victim of the wrecking ball in 1965

The old Milwaukee Road railroad depot in Downtown, a victim of the wrecking ball in 1965

Mayor Barrett has initiated a review of the current ordinances. In a newsletter, he posed a series of questions about how the city’s longstanding historic preservation ordinance and processes work. In their letter, the preservationists respond and express concern that any review of the preservation ordinance, like a review of any zoning, should be transparent, thorough and include significant input from the community.

Questions the mayor asked in the newsletter include:

  • “Should the ordinance allow the HPC to consider economic hardship in its decision-making? This is a common provision in many historic preservation ordinances in other cities.”
  • “Do we have enough input from property owners in the historic designation process? Some cities, for example, consider designating a local historic district only if the majority of property owners petition for its creation.”
  • “Should owners of designated properties be able to petition the Common Council for exemption to historic regulations if their projects clearly conflict with the rules?”
  • “Does the Milwaukee ordinance ensure customer-friendly historic preservation processes?”
Another significant historic landmark, the Layton Art Gallery, demolished in 1958

Another significant historic landmark, the Layton Art Gallery, demolished in 1958

Ald. Terry Witkowski is also proposing that the Common Council look at the rules and procedures that the Historic Preservation Commission uses, and he says such a review “could even lead to the abolishment and recreation of the body.”

HWTN strongly supports the current ordinance. Our group helped pass city legislation in the 1970s to pass the current law after a series of historically significant buildings were demolished, as also noted in another of many articles.

The letter to Mayor Barrett notes that preservation provides jobs, encourages heritage tourism, offers business recruitment potential, increases property values and improves the environment. The writers support a review of ordinances with the goal not of making preservation more difficult, but only to “help make historic preservation an even more effective driver of economic development.”

The letter signers include several HWTN members, including James T. Barry III, Kristin Bergstrom, Robert and Barbara Elsner, Sally R. Peltz, Julie Penman, Jim Shields and Charlie Trainer. Other prominent civil leaders who signed include John Gurda, Michael W. Hatch, Tom Kubala, Greg Marcus and Bill Orenstein.

The HWTN neighborhood is home to hundreds of well preserved historic structures — preserved in part because of city ordinances we worked to create. The preservation makes the East Side and other areas true Wisconsin treasures.

Milwaukee's historic preservation ordinance, backed by resident opposition, convinced the owner of this landmark to drop announced demolition plans

Milwaukee's historic preservation ordinance, backed by resident opposition, convinced the owner of this landmark to drop announced demolition plans

What can you do to preserve preservation in Milwaukee? Please send an email today to Mayor Barrett today and ask him to appoint a task force that includes stakeholders to review the ordinance. The more open the process and the more stakeholders involved the better. The goal: To ensure that historic preservation becomes a true engine for positive economic development and protects Milwaukee’s historic gems and unique neighborhoods.