Milwaukee County Board votes 9-8 against sale of O'Donnell Park

MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Northwestern Mutual will not be taking ownership of O'Donnell Park on Milwaukee's lakefront, and its parking structure.

A closely divided county board voted 9-8 on Thursday, December 18th against the sale of the property.

Northwestern Mutual has offered to purchase the O’Donnell Parking Structure and O’Donnell Park for $14 million. Northwestern Mutual is interested because the property is directly across the street from where the company is building a new office tower.

For a county board meeting, this was a dramatic affair.

Signs plastered the walls, people packed the gallery and pretty much every supervisor wanted to weigh-in on the proposal to sell O'Donnell Park and its parking structure to Northwestern Mutual.

"We've said all along that we have other options for parking on adjacent property to our campus and we'll turn out attention to thinking about those options and how to move those forward," said Northwestern Mutual Vice President, Sandy Botcher.

Northwestern Mutual Vice President, Sandy Botcher, calls the county board's decision a "missed opportunity." And when asked if the company would be interested in pursuing future negotiations for the property, she says:

"I think that's something that we'll have to re-evaluate given the hearing today," said Botcher.

Supervisors split into three camps on the issue: Some wanted to keep it county property, others supported selling it to Northwestern Mutual -- but a third group just didn't like the current deal. They wanted the deal's specifications to be restructured or supported seeking a more lucrative sale for the lakefront property.

"If Northwestern Mutual wants to come back and revisit this with a conservation easement, something really great for both the county and for Northwestern Mutual, I can talk to them," said 8th District Supervisor, Patricia Jursik.

Jursik says she was relieved to see the space preserved as a park. Others, say it's going to be a financial burden for the county to handle its upkeep.

"I think we really needed to rid ourselves of this facility to a very good company that's going to have the assets and resources to actually invest in it money we don't have," said 9th District Supervisor, Steve Taylor.

Northwestern Mutual announced on Thursday its intentions to build a mixed use real estate development immediately west of its downtown Milwaukee campus. Sandy Botcher, vice present at Northwestern Mutual and head of the company’s downtown campus expansion project, issued the following statement:

“Although we are disappointed by the County Board’s decision, we want to acknowledge the outpouring of support we have received from all corners of the community, both today and throughout the debate.

"With this missed opportunity, it is now incumbent on the County Board to find solutions to the long-overdue deferred maintenance issues at O’Donnell. The board needs to make good on this morning’s dialogue about better options for O’Donnell Park, including how to pay for the millions of dollars in deferred maintenance.

"For our part, our belief in Milwaukee is undiminished. We will continue to do all we can to make our community great. We will continue to partner with people who have vision and passion for the best interests of the whole community.”

To that end, Botcher said Northwestern Mutual will begin work with Mayor Barrett and the Milwaukee Common Council on plans for a mixed-use real estate development adjacent to the western side of its downtown Milwaukee campus.

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