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Great Lakes Article:

Lakefront project could make waves
Design of proposed building evokes Calatrava touch on nearby art museum
WHITNEY GOULD
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

05/09/2002

A Great Lakes education group unveiled ambitious plans Wednesday for a soaring, $30 million building on the lakefront that could steal some thunder from the Milwaukee Art Museum's striking, Calatrava-designed addition just to the north.

The newcomer, a white, sail-like structure with a cabled mast that evokes the museum expansion, would be built at the end of Municipal Pier - a peninsular extension of E. Michigan St. - and be cantilevered 328 feet out over the water.

The 65,000-square-foot project, which would include classrooms, exhibit space and aquariums, got an enthusiastic reception from the city's Harbor Commission, which controls the site. Commission chairman Daniel Steininger called it "the jewel that will complete the picture" on the lakefront.

Steininger directed his staff to lay the groundwork for negotiating a long-term lease with Pier Wisconsin (formerly, the Wisconsin Lake Schooner Education Association), the group behind the project, and give the issue "the highest priority." Pier Wisconsin has already built a $4.2 million, 137-foot replica of the 19th-century schooners - the Denis Sullivan, a floating classroom docked on the south edge of Municipal Pier.

Santiago Calatrava, architect of the museum addition, reportedly has been less enthusiastic about plans for the new building, which is being designed by McClintock Architects of Mequon. A friend said the Spanish-born architect "went nuts" when he saw a rendering and complained that the building's white sails and tall, cabled mast "ridiculed" his own design.

Philanthropist Michael Cudahy, a big benefactor of both the art museum expansion and the schooner building, acknowledged that Calatrava was "kind of upset" when he first saw the plans. "But we sat down over dinner and a bottle of wine, and we're great friends again," Cudahy said. "He's very much for it now. He thinks it's wonderful. I think we've convinced him it will complement his building, not compete with it."

Calatrava, who works out of offices in Zurich, Switzerland, and Paris, could not be reached for comment.

His local partner in the project, architect David Kahler, said in an interview that visually, the building "has the potential to create a lot of competition" not only for the Calatrava addition but for the schooner itself. "That's not to say that you can't build something else on the lakefront," Kahler added, "but you don't want to undo the good that's being done here."

The project has won the official endorsement of the art museum. "I'll leave it to others to comment on the architecture, but we're thrilled to have an educational institution like this as a neighbor," said Christopher Goldsmith, the museum's executive director. The building still needs approval of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Frank Steeves, chairman of Pier Wisconsin's board of directors, said the group had already raised about half of the $30 million needed to build the facility - a sum that will include a $5 million endowment to cover operating costs.

Cudahy acknowledged that raising the rest would be a challenge. But if everything proceeds on schedule, Steeves said, the first pilings would be driven into the lake this summer, construction of the building would begin in the fall and the project could be complete by autumn 2004.

Steve Books, president of Pier Wisconsin, said the purpose of the building will be to teach people of all ages about the role of fresh water in sustaining life. Piggybacking on the teaching done aboard the schooner, the building will offer accredited programs in everything from water chemistry and weather to maritime history, native and exotic species, Great Lakes commerce and water testing, he said.

Danni Gendelman, a leader of one of the building's major exhibitors, Great Lakes Future, originally had even bigger dreams. "We envisioned something of international scale," she said. "But you'll still be able to see and touch and smell the water, and as a regional venue this will be very nice."

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Great Lakes Water Institute, Milwaukee Public Schools, the Wisconsin Coastal Management Program and the DNR (which would have an office there) are among a long list of partners in the venture.

Mark McClintock, one of the architects, said the four-level building was conceived by his father, Jim McClintock, in the shape of a nautical compass, its curved sides reminiscent of the sails of the nearby schooner; the cables strung from the 140-foot mast would anchor the points of the compass at ground level. And the 90-foot-high walls, he said, would be constructed of a high-pressure resin laminate used in Europe and admired for its ability to withstand rough weather.

Among the interior features: a waterfall in the lobby, along with a tunnel of water leading to the lake's edge; saltwater and freshwater aquariums; exhibit space with a three-quarter-size replica of the schooner suspended above; labs and classrooms, including long-distance learning facilities; a 144-seat, high-tech theater; a small restaurant; offices; and a lakefront lookout.

A walkway, open to the public year-round, would encircle the building. The south side of the pier would add landing facilities for small boats.

Harbor Commission member Kris Martinsek envisioned entertainment packages promoting an array of attractions on the lakefront, including the schooner building, the art museum, Summerfest and the Betty Brinn Children's Museum. "It's a no-brainer," she said.

Steininger said the building could help reshape the identity of Milwaukee: "The greatest asset this community has is the lake. That's the good news. The bad news is that a lot of people don't know it. This building really brings them into the loop."




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