West Bend’s Bridge to Nowhere

There’s a bit of a kerfuffle going on in West Bend regarding a little bridge over the Milwaukee River that goes to nowhere. The Washington County Insider has been all over it for a while now. I encourage you to read through a lot of the back story there if you are interested. The West Bend Daily News also has a pretty good story about it in the newspaper today. I’ll give you the short version…

In 1982, an enclosed pedestrian bridge was built over the Milwaukee River between downtown and an outlet mall. Over time, the outlet mall was closed and then torn down. The bridge was abandoned and half of it was torn down with the mall. This is what it looked like this afternoon:

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Until recently, it still had its glass walls, but it is in the process of being demolished, which brings us to the kerfuffle.

Over the past few years, and through several iterations of debate, the city has been trying to figure out what to do about crossing the river between downtown and the Museum of Wisconsin Art. Currently, between the two streets that cross the river, there are two small pedestrian bridges and the defunct bridge to nowhere. Earlier this year, the city decided to construct a new pedestrian bridge and tear down the bridge to nowhere and one of the other pedestrian bridges which is old and very close to where the new one will be. Here’s a picture of the river as it stands today:

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You can see the current pedestrian bridge in the foreground and the bridge to nowhere in the background. Both are scheduled to be demolished and the new bridge built between them.

All good, right? No.

A group of people are also trying to renovate the long defunct theater in downtown West Bend. Their vision is to create an entertainment destination centered around the renovated theater. Central to that vision is the bridge to nowhere, which they want as a bridge to somewhere – namely parking across the river. Their plans are in the early stages, but they think that demolishing the bridge may endanger the whole project. To that end, Terry Becker has started a petition to save the bridge on Change.org.

The problem now is a matter of time and money. The project is already in motion. Part of the project is being funded with a grant from the state, which is based on plans to demolish the bridge to nowhere. If they don’t demolish the bridge, the city would have to waive the grant and come up with the funding from city taxpayers. That amount is about $45k, I think.

As Mayor Sadownikow points out in a letter on the Washington County Insider, if the Common Council is going to cancel the demolition and waive the state funds, they need to put it on the agenda for the January 4th meeting, which means it needs to be published by December 21st. Sadownikow says:

I will not support, nor ask the Council to support, removing demo from the State/Federally funded portion of the contract only to find out the Theatre project does not move forward and the money to remove the bridge is gone. West Bend will be left with half a bridge and the local taxpayer holding the bag.

I agree with that completely. The fact is that the theater and the bridge have been out of use and in disrepair for over a decade. We’ve heard rumblings of renovating the theater for years. I do not see any reason for the taxpayers to take a risk on having to pay tens of thousands of dollars on a promise of future development. And it is that… a promise. Nobody has put forth any actual plans with a plan for financing it yet.

The only way I would support changing the plan to demolish the bridge to nowhere is if two things happen. First, the developers who want it need to replace the money that would be lost in state funding if we do not demolish the bridge. Second, the developers would need to put funds in escrow for the purpose of demolishing the bridge if they do not complete their project by a specified date – perhapsĀ this time next year. That way, if their plans fall through, we can still tear down the bridge so it won’t be an eyesore for another decade.