By Henry Hamilton III
Northwestern Mutual is negotiating with Milwaukee County to buy O’Donnell Park, the lakefront park which includes the O’Donnell parking garage.
The park also includes two garden plazas, and a pavilion containing a children’s museum and a restaurant.
I am against the sale of the park.
Many critics of the sale emphasize the financing, which, quite frankly, is unbelievably generous to the proposed buyer.
Northwestern Mutual proposes to buy O’Donnell Park for $ 12.7 million dollars. After all is said and done, Milwaukee County will recognize a one-time profit of approximately $ 5 million.
To understand the shortsighted nature of the deal one does not even need to consider the market price of the lakefront property. One only needs to consider that O’Donnell Park brings in approximately $ 1.3 million in revenue to the County each year.
Yep, that’s right the County will recognize a one-time profit of approximately $ 5 million, and in exchange it will forgo roughly $ 1.3 million in annual revenue for perpetuity.
I believe there is far greater reason to oppose the sale of O’Donnell Park. Parks are for people. Parks naturally belong to people, not corporations (not even friendly corporations).
Parks were created for the enjoyment of all people – the young, and the old; the high income, low-income, fixed income, or even no-income; and people of all races and religions.
We go to parks to play, to learn, and to reflect. In the case of the lakefront parks, we may go just to admire the region’s greatest natural asset – Lake Michigan.
When we are done doing what we do in parks, we gather our belongings and we leave, because we do not individually own the parks. We collectively own the parks.
We must share the park with others. The next day others come to enjoy the park. That is the nature of parks.
This deal could forever foreclose public use of the park.
I understand the emotional attachment to lakefront parks.
O’Donnell Park has amazing views of the lakefront. Who wouldn’t want to own it?
Wealthy developers and retailers are absolutely giddy about the prospect of Milwaukee County selling off lakefront property.
Indeed, Northwestern Mutual is willing to risk 150 years of goodwill in this community for the opportunity of exclusive ownership of O’Donnell Park.
We must resist the temptation to sell our treasured assets to the highest bidder (or in the present case, the sole and exclusively privileged bidder).
We owe it to future generations to maintain the public use of our parks.
To its credit, representatives from Northwestern Mutual say they respect the public interests in O’Donnell Park and plan to allow some limited form of public access to the property; however, Northwestern Mutual does not want to put sufficient promises in writing.
The sale of O’Donnell Park is a bad deal all around.
The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors will vote on the proposed sale December 18, 2014.
If you agree that parks, including O’Donnell Park, must be kept for everyone’s benefit, please contact your supervisor.
You can find how to reach him or her at MilwaukeeCounty.gov. You can send messages by email, phone or Twitter.
Henry Hamilton III, is a member of the Milwaukee County Parks Advisory Commission, and the Milwaukee County Lakefront Development Advisory Commission.