This is part 1 of a series of articles regarding the proposed Couture development in downtown Milwaukee. Part 2 concerning a possible lawsuit can be found here.

All photos by Joe Powell.

All photos by Joe Powell.

Any discussion of the streetcar system in Milwaukee and increased downtown investment inevitably returns to the on-going saga involving the Couture high-rise. The project has been halted by Preserve Our Parks and their threat of lawsuit over the County’s sale of the Downtown Transit Center to Couture developers. That lawsuit is a topic for another day.

Downtown Transit Center (2)

What I wanted to know was what exactly Preserve Our Parks is fighting to preserve. After spending a beautiful Sunday afternoon walking around the Downtown Transit Center, here’s my revelation:

The Downtown Transit Center is the saddest building in Milwaukee.

Downtown Transit Center (42)

Downtown Transit Center (26)

Milwaukee’s resident historian, John Gurda, wrote a fantastic piece about the history of the Downtown Transit Center. Some things have seemingly changed since that 2012 article, all for the worse.

There’s a pretty substantial park on top of the two-story building (Google Maps) which would probably have beautiful views of the lake and Summerfest. However, all staircases up to this level (indoor and outdoor) were blocked off. Getting over to it via an imposing skywalk from the O’Donnell Parking Garage was uninviting at best. I didn’t attempt the detour.

Downtown Transit Center (11) Downtown Transit Center (19)Downtown Transit Center (9)

On the second floor, opening up to the park, is the Harbor Lights Room event space. While this may be a perfect place to host a wedding reception during the summer, it too was inaccessible on this March afternoon.

Downtown Transit Center (17)

Pictured: lies.

The purpose of the Downtown Transit Center is to be a central hub for buses and riders. The first floor is a cavernous space that could’ve easily accommodated 100+ people, but on this Sunday featured one person utilizing the WiFi and a homeless gentleman. It looks like they took out most of the chairs, as they aren’t used.

Downtown Transit Center (20) Downtown Transit Center (22) Downtown Transit Center (23)

I saw exactly as many buses come through as I did people. While a few bus-lines stop outside the doors, there are exactly zero on the schedule boards.

Downtown Transit Center (24) Downtown Transit Center (25)

Pictured: a unicorn.

Pictured: a unicorn.

Downtown Transit Center (32)

The only thing the Downtown Transit Center seems to be effectively used for currently is a home for buses when they’re not in service. It was good to see most of them out on the streets this day.

Downtown Transit Center (33)

I’m an avid supporter of the bus system in Milwaukee, but the Downtown Transit Center seems like a misuse of the land/space. A location next to the under-construction 833 East Michigan building and immediately across from the lake and our city’s great attractions deserves more than this. The out-of-sync clocks are just too poetic: the Downtown Transit Center is truly behind the times.

Downtown Transit Center (41)

833 East Michigan building under construction.

833 East Michigan building under construction.

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