From Spur to Spectacular.
Milwaukee is one of very few cities in the country to demolish an elevated freeway for the benefit of surrounding neighborhoods and to create new valuable land for development. The land was once the Park East Freeway, a mile-long spur that was built as part of a larger plan to encircle the Downtown business district with expressways.
The freeway project, however, was never completed due in part to opposition from neighborhood groups and businesses.
Though the land east of the spur had been cleared for the right-of-way needed to continue the Park East Freeway, it remained undeveloped until the state removed its designation as a transportation corridor. This led to the creation of the East Pointe Neighborhood, a community of shops, townhouses, condominiums and rental properties, part of a revival of residential construction in Downtown Milwaukee.
The success of the East Pointe Neighborhood and the resurgence of Downtown Milwaukee convinced officials the time was right to demolish Downtown freeways and replace them with mixed-used neighborhoods. In 1999, the removal of the spur was approved by the State of Wisconsin, Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee. Three years later, utilizing Federal ISTEA money and local Tax Increment Financing, removal of the Park East Freeway began.
The elevated freeway spur was replaced with an at-grade, six-lane boulevard – McKinley Boulevard — that is fully connected with the existing and newly re-created street grid. New block configurations opened up 24 acres of Downtown property for redevelopment.
In 2011, newly elected County Executive Chris Abele made it a priority to complete the redevelopment of the Park East corridor which had sat almost entirely vacant since the freeway removal was completed in 2002. A joint marketing effort led to an innovative rolling RFP process, and through that almost the entire corridor has been, or is in the process of being, completely redeveloped. The Park East has been the site of a number of exciting Milwaukee-area developments including the new Milwaukee Bucks sports and entertainment district, the Moderne high-rise tower, and the growth of mixed use Downtown housing redevelopments along Water Street.
Purple shading in the map below delineates the prime location of Downtown Milwaukee’s Park East neighborhood.