Mitchell Park Domes corpse flower awes, site's future in question

Milwaukee County leaders say, after years of discussion, it's time to decide what to do with the aging Mitchell Park Domes.

With their future up in the air, the Domes had one of their busiest days ever Friday, July 21. Huge crowds lined up to see the rare bloom of a corpse flower.

An attraction with a smell of death – described by Friends of the Domes Executive Director Christa Beall Diefenbach as "decaying flesh" – is breathing new life into the domes.

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There were long lines around the Domes just to smell the rare Sumatran flower known as "Musky." Sumatra is an island in Indonesia. 

"It’s a way people can come out show their support and see something they might only get to see a couple times," said Beall Diefenbach.

Dale Jurney joined thousands of others, and said he waited three hours in line to see and smell the corpse flower.

"You gotta get people in through the doors. It’s an experience, it’s a great place to be," he said. "I’m amazed, and I’m very happy because like I said – more funding and helping keep this place alive is really what matters the most."

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Typically, it takes eight years for corpse flowers to fully bloom. This one has been growing since 2007. Once it fully blooms, the flower dies within 24 hours to 36 hours.

Visit the Mitchell Park Domes website for more information on hours and admission. 

Mitchell Park costs

Keeping the aging Mitchell Park Domes alive would be costly.

"We have had estimates from $20 million to $60 million over the year to really do everything it would take to repair the glass, concrete and fix a lot of the back of house things," said Jim Tarantino, Milwaukee County Parks deputy director.

At a Milwaukee County committee meeting Tuesday, Tarantino provided an update on the Domes' status. He’s looking at all options for the Domes’ future – including repairing, rebuilding and replacing.

Line forms to view "Musky" the corpse flower at the Mitchell Park Domes

Tarantino said he believes a capital campaign could fundraise $20 million for Mitchell Park as a whole with $3 million for the Domes.

"$3 million is maybe a drop in the bucket, but a bucket is filled one drop at a time," he said.

Tarantino said the rest of the bill would fall to the county. At the meeting, he suggested focusing on one of the three Domes first.

"That doesn’t necessarily mean that two or three Domes don’t eventually end up getting saved, but we’re trying to look in terms of short, medium, long," he said.

"Let’s be prepared to make a decision one way or another this term," said County Supervisor Steve Taylor.

Whatever the decision, Beall Diefenbach said she wants a space where a community connection to nature can bloom.

"Mitchell Park today is not glistening like it used to, and it really does need our support and our love," she said.

The Milwaukee County Parks deputy director said he’ll have cost estimates for future potential options at a meeting in September.

Beyond the Domes, county supervisors are focusing on ways to better Mitchell Park as a whole.