Wisconsin’s Coastal Program Invests in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley

The Takeaway: Former abandoned area is on strong path to recovery. Sustainable design standards, new parks, trails, and stormwater approaches pave the way toward a better future.

Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley was once the “Machine Shop of the World.” In the post-industrial era, the area was abandoned and unusable, creating a barrier to the city’s South Side and leaving the Menomonee River unappreciated and misused. The state’s coastal program was one of the early believers in the area’s potential and funded an initial project to address stormwater and sustainability. The program has continued to invest in the area over the past 15 years, funding the design of several public access and community education projects. As a result of these and other efforts, the area has seen a renewal with new sustainable business standards that call for living-wage jobs, open space and green infrastructure, public access amenities, new businesses, and a connection with communities across the river.

Since 1999, partners in the Menomonee River Valley developed 300 acres of brownfields, constructed over one million square feet of green buildings, and installed over 60 acres of new trails and park space with 45 acres of native plants. This has led to improved wildlife habitat and water quality. In addition, 51 companies have moved to the Menomonee River Valley, creating over 5,200 family-supporting jobs.

The Wisconsin Department of Administration’s Wisconsin Coastal Program provided financial and technical assistance to the Menomonee Valley renewal through a number of projects:

  • Sustainable Design Guidelines for the Menomonee River Valley: This project produced sustainable design guidelines for property owners, developers, and the building industry with redevelopment plans in the Valley.
  • Three Bridges: This 23-acre park opened an area along the river to the public for the first time since 1879. The project was part of a comprehensive effort to improve job accessibility, science education, environmental and public health, and neighborhood vitality. It included a new walking bridge reconnecting communities that had been separated for more than a generation. The bridge allows a low-income neighborhood across the river easy access to new living-wage jobs in Menomonee Valley. Three Bridges Park opened in 2013.
  • Reed Street Yards: This project completes the Hank Aaron State Trail from Miller Park to the lakeshore. The project is part of a 15-acre redevelopment focusing on water-related industries and public facilities along the river.
  • Stormwater Park: This 70-acre park provides open space for recreation, interpretation, and primary treatment of stormwater within the developing business park.
  • Ember Lane: This initiative constructed a floating dock and debris screen on the Menomonee River at a site susceptible to sediment and litter pollution. (2019)

Partners: Menomonee Valley Partners, Urban Ecology Center, Sixteenth Street Community Health Center, Milwaukee Redevelopment Authority, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources