Abele voices late opposition to War Memorial Center deal

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- A plan initiated by the Milwaukee County Board to help fund and support the Milwaukee County War Memorial Center and the Milwaukee Art Museum could be at risk just as the deal was getting done.

The plan includes funding to not only improve both facilities, but the services they provide.

County Executive Chris Abele pulled some of the funding the groups agreed upon and voiced late opposition to the plan in general.

Supervisor Gerry Broderick, Chairman of the Parks Committee and former Art Museum Board member, is concerned about what this will mean for the future of the extremely popular museum.

“Failure to come together on this agreement puts the half-billion dollar publically-owned art collection at risk,” Broderick said. “The proposed privately-funded expansion of the museum itself could also be at stake.”

“This puts new services for veterans at the War Memorial in jeopardy,” Supervisor John Weishan, Jr. said. “As a veteran, I know we need more support to help the troops coming home now from Iraq and Afghanistan.”

The County Board adopted a budget amendment to provide incentive funding for the War Memorial and Art Museum. The Board then brought in a mediator to help bring the two sides together on the agreement that is now up in the air.

“This last-minute change by the County Executive actually cuts funding for the War Memorial and Art Museum,” County Board Chairwoman Marina Dimitrijevic said. “It throws a wrench in this historic agreement between two cultural pillars of our community. As hundreds of thousands of Milwaukee County residents line the lakefront (Wednesday night, July 3rd) next to these two icons (for the U.S. Bank Fireworks show), this is a great opportunity for us to think about properly honoring our veterans and the art community by investing in a long-term agreement.”

An "operations agreement" between the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Milwaukee County War Memorial was reached in March.

The stairs to the War Memorial Center are crumbling.  There are also visible leaks and broken glass.  It’s a $25 million renovation project, where the Art Museum would agree to pay $15 million and Milwaukee County would pay $10 million.

The land is owned by the County, but the big dispute is: Who would manage what?

Under the deal reached in March, both the Art Museum and the War Memorial Center would operate as separate entities and control the spaces and floor it currently occupies.  The move would change the old arrangement where the museum was the tenant and the War Memorial was the landlord.

The deal was a relative win-win for both parties, which will protect a $750 million art collection and honor the veterans with services in its sacred space.

Details of the agreement include:

    The agreement must be approved by the full Milwaukee County Board and County Executive. The initial goal was to close on the deal by Memorial Day.