Mitchell park horticultural conservatory

Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (The Domes), Milwaukee: Hours, Address, Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (The Domes) Reviews: 4/5

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    • Popular Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (The Domes) Photos
        • Tropical dome at night
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        • Coco beans. Very cool
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        • Dig the tropics!
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        • This is one of the three domes the Show one, where is a seasonal floral display
        • “The Domes”
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        • Great Visit
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Study recommends demolishing Mitchell Park Domes to combine with public museum in a new building

People use their shadows to determine what time it is while using a sundial built into the sidewalk Monday outside the Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee. A report has recommended tearing down the domes and replacing it with a new horticultural conservatory. Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Visitors are shown outside the Mitchell Park Domes Monday in Milwaukee. A report has recommended tearing down the domes and replacing it with a new horticultural conservatory combined with a relocated Milwaukee Public Museum. Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel A couple sits inside the show dome Monday at the Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee. A report has recommended tearing down the domes and replacing it with a new horticultural conservatory combined with a relocated Milwaukee Public Museum. They domes cover 45,000 square feet of display area and were constructed in stages from 1959 to 1967. Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel A couple sits inside the show dome Monday at the Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee. A report has recommended tearing down the domes and replacing it with a new horticultural conservatory combined with a relocated Milwaukee Public Museum. They domes cover 45,000 square feet of display area and were constructed in stages from 1959 to 1967. Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel The desert dome is shown Monday at the Mitchell Park Domes in Milwaukee. A report has recommended tearing down the domes and replacing it with a new horticultural conservatory combined with a relocated Milwaukee Public Museum. They domes cover 45,000 square feet of display area and were constructed in stages from 1959 to 1967. Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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Milwaukee’s beloved Domes have had issues with concrete debris falling and now a firm hired by a county task force is recommending demolition of the three glass beehive-shaped structures that have graced the city’s skyline for decades.

That doesn’t mean a wrecking ball will soon smash the Domes to bits. Far from it. Only that a company that recently analyzed the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory concluded that the cost of properly renovating the Domes greatly outweighs the benefit of doing so.

The report will be discussed by the County Board’s Parks, Energy and Environment Committee on Tuesday afternoon.

Last year, the Milwaukee County Museum Task Force commissioned a study on the feasibility of joining the Milwaukee Public Museum and the Domes in one new building.

In a report submitted last month, Gallagher Museum Services recommended knocking down the Domes and building a 222,000-square-foot structure to house both the Public Museum and the horticultural exhibits on the footprint of the Domes, linking into the current greenhouse.

Estimated price tag? $300 million.

What the proposed new Domes/Museum building would look like, or whether the cacti, palm trees and beautiful poinsettia plants would reside in a spiffier set of domes, was not included in the report.

The Milwaukee County Museum Task Force is different from the Domes Task Force, which is waiting for studies on the glass panels and concrete structure of the domes. Constructed between 1959 and 1967, the attraction abruptly closed for several weeks in 2016 when a chunk of concrete fell inside the Desert Dome, months after the county Parks Department decided to install netting inside the Tropical Dome because of falling concrete debris.

Milwaukee County Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb noted that the Domes Task Force is involved in a more extensive analysis than the Museum Task Force “and they are charged with drafting recommendations that I believe will lead to the repair and preservation of the Domes.”

Last year, museum officials released two sets of designs for a new museum to be built somewhere else in Milwaukee other than the current downtown site with then-Museum President Dennis Kois predicting construction would start in 2022 at a cost of at least $100 million.

A study on whether to put the museum and Domes at one location was included in the most recent county budget by supervisors Marina Dimitrijevic and Jason Haas.

CLOSE

Drone video over the Mitchell Park Domes Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“There was no preconceived idea other than — let’s explore it. I want to come out of this with a bigger and better museum and a bigger and better Domes,” said Dimitrijevic, who recently took her son to the garden train show in the Show Dome.

Noting that both facilities need to be updated and renovated, Dimitrijevic said Monday putting the Domes and the museum in one spot on county-owned grounds has merit. That could also mean combining similar exhibits, such as the museum’s rain forest exhibit with the Tropical Dome’s unique plants.

But there would likely be a public backlash to change, especially for buildings that have been featured in countless wedding photos and whose colorful flowers and plants have attracted many generations of folks seeking beauty and peaceful serenity in the middle of Milwaukee.

The report “does answer the question, is it feasible” to demolish the Domes and build a new structure combining the public museum, said Dimitrijevic. “But we as policymakers have to decide if it’s feasible to the public and feasible to policymakers,” she said.

The recommendation of bulldozing the Domes and combining with the museum at a shared facility landed with a thud with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which included the Mitchell Park conservatory on the group’s 11 most endangered historic places list in 2016.

“Demolition of the Mitchell Park Domes, an iconic symbol of Milwaukee and a national treasure, would result in an irreparable loss for the community,” Barb Pahl, senior vice president, field services at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, said in a statement.

Eric Kozera and his wife went to the Domes on Monday afternoon while visiting family. The couple live in Livingston, Montana, but Kozera grew up in Waukesha and visited the Domes at least a dozen times, coming with his grandparents.

“I think the Domes are pretty cool,” said Kozera, as he watched G model trains roll past tiny re-creations of the Milwaukee County Zoo and Miller Park. “Look at all the kids here today. Good luck creating this environment in just a regular building.”

RELATED: Public hearing draws support for preserving the Mitchell Park Domes in MIlwaukee

RELATED: Milwaukee Public Museum releases design concepts for proposed new $100 million-plus building

Karen Cliffe brought her 4-year-old grandson, who wore a train engineer’s cap, to see the garden train show. Cliffe has visited the Domes for the last three decades and said she understands the cost to refurbish and repair them will be expensive.

“I personally would hate to see these Domes demolished,” said Cliffe, of Waukesha. “I just think in general we tend to demolish instead of take care of things.”

Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (The Domes)

Institution Code: MIL

International Agenda Registration: No

BGCI Member: No

About the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (The Domes)

We have three large (85 ft high) glass domes that each contain a different climate and type of garden. There is a Tropical Dome, containing plants from tropical regions, a Desert Dome, containing plants from arid regions, and a Show Dome, with a rotating schedule of 5 thematic floral displays a year.

Main Address:
Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (The Domes)
524 South Layton Boulevard
Milwaukee
Wisconsin 53215 United States of America

Telephone: (414) 257-5600
Fax: (414) 649-8616
URL: www.county.milwaukee.gov/MitchellParkConserva10116.htm
Primary Email:

Staff Details

  • Director’s Name: Doris Maki, Director
    Curator’s Name: Amy Thurner, Horticulture Manager
    Plant Records Officer’s Name: Marian French
  • Total Staff:
    Horticultural Staff Number: 7
    Educational Staff Number: 1
    Research Staff Number:
    Administration Staff Number: 1

About the Garden

  • Institution Type: Other
  • Status
  • Status: Municipal: Yes
  • Date founded: 1959
  • Physical Data
  • Latitude: 43.0262360
    Longitude: -87.9438340
    Altitude: 0.00 Metres
    Total area of glasshouses: 4047 Metres
  • Locality: Information
  • Locality: Garden Name: The Domes
  • Local Address: 524 S Layton Boulevard
  • Locality: City: Milwaukee
  • Locality: State: Wisconsin

Features and Facilities

  • Arboretum: No
  • Open to public: Yes
    Friends society: Yes
    Retail Outlet: Shop: Yes
    Retail Outlet: Plant Sales: No
    Disabled access: Yes

Plant Collections

  • Special Collections:Madagascar succulents; African succulents and bulbs; Canary Island flora; South, Central, and North American desert plants; some heirloom, traditional native American crop plants such as chilis; tropical orchids; tropical fruits & economic plants; bromeliads; anthiriums; tropical ferns.
  • Plant Collection Policy: Yes

Conservation Programmes

  • We currently have no data on Conservation Programmes at this garden.

Research Programmes

  • We currently have no data on Research Programmes at this garden.

Education Programmes

  • We currently have no data on Education Programmes at this garden.

Attack of the Giant Monsters 2

JANUARY 18 – MARCH 29

Attack of the Giant Monsters 2 is the exciting sequel to our first giant-monster themed model train show. Due to the Domes closure back in 2016, the show was cut very short, but it has returned with even bigger and better monsters. This G-scale model train garden will feature spoofs of your favorite classic giant movie monsters. Travel the tracks through a not-so-scary, but very silly set of cities under attack, creatures lurking in the plants and plenty of hidden surprises. The garden will include miniature topiary azaleas and other varieties of dwarf evergreen trees. Among many varieties of flowering annuals this show will also showcase a unique eyeball looking plant called Acmella oleracea and a carnivorous plant display to complement this show’s Monster theme.
Regular Domes admission applies. Free to Friends of the Domes members.

All Scale Train Lobby Exhibit

FEBRUARY 8 & 9, 9AM-4PM

A weekend of exhibits and unique train layouts displaying all types and sizes of collectible model trains; from the ones that you can ride to those that are miniature sized.
Regular Domes admission applies. Free to Friends of the Domes members.

Gardens & Gears Steampunk Faire

FEBRUARY 29, 2020, 9AM-5PM

Join us for a gadget filled garden party showcasing the culture, arts and craftsmanship of the Steampunk era and lifestyle! Dress up and be part of the fun. Food available for purchase.
Regular Domes admission applies. Free to Friends of the Domes members.

Monday Morning Storytime

MONDAYS AT 10:30AM THROUGH MARCH 30

Take you little ones (age 3-7) to the Domes Education Center and enjoy a story that comes to life! Each week a volunteer storyteller will present a topic that is nature-centered and related the the the current Show Dome show.
Included with Domes Admission. Free to Friends of the Domes members.

Walk the Domes

TUESDAYS, 9:15AM THROUGH MARCH 31

Take your walking routine to the Domes. Enjoy a one mile scenic indoor walk led by a trained conservatory volunteer, who will lead a warm-up on the first lap along the paths of the Domes, followed by gentle stretch in the lobby.

Pokemon Go at The Domes

Get out of the cold and join the Pokémon craze. The popular phone app game uses GPS technology to hide Pokémon and various prizes in real-world outdoor locations and the Domes is no exception! The bonus is that the Domes aren’t exactly outdoors, so this winter you can come inside and play while staying warm and dry—not to mention take in the beautiful gardens. This game is truly fun for all ages and encourages getting exercise as well as meeting friendly new people in the community. The app is free to download, and for those currently playing, there are four indoor Poké-Stops and one Poké-Gym. Come in and catch them all! Free every day to Friends of the Domes members!

Miniature Milwaukee Train Show Opens at the Domes on January 19

MILWAUKEE, WI — G-scale trains will travel past a miniature Miller Park Stadium, a tiny St. Josephat’s Cathedral, and even a scaled down version of the Domes, as part of the ‘Miniature Milwaukee’ train show inside the Mitchell Park Domes.

The annual train show, one of the most popular Show Dome displays each year, will be open daily from January 19 through April 7, 2019, and is included with general admission to The Domes.

Trains will travel past local parks and suburbs and wind around some of Milwaukee’s most notable landmarks and well-known buildings. A variety of miniature, G-Scaled plants will also fill the landscape, including miniature topiary azalea trees, violas, petunias and colorful varieties of coleus. A real desert and tropical plants will fill the mini-sized Domes as well.

The Domes are open daily from 9:00 a.m to 5:00 p.m. on weekdays and 9:00 a.m to 4:00 p.m.on weekends and holidays. Special events during the train show include an All Scale Train Exhibit in the lobby on Feb. 9 and 10; and the popular Steampunk show, Gardens and Gears, will return on March 2.

Patch File Photo by Scott Anderson

MILWAUKEE — Brian Kramp spent the morning at the Mitchell Park Domes for the Milwaukee Miniature Train Show. He’s learning what it takes to put the show together and how the flowers and plants are cared for.

About Miniature Milwaukee Model Train Show (website)

Miniature Milwaukee, the garden train show at the Mitchell Park Domes, is fun for the whole family. The Miniature Milwaukee Model Train Show will capture the essence of our great city on a tiny scale. Various trains will travel past local parks and suburbs and wind around some of Milwaukee’s most notable landmarks and well-known buildings. Plants will be G scaled to suit the miniature trains making their way through the Milwaukee landscape. Among many other plants the landscape will include miniature topiary azalea trees, miniature topiary tree form rosemary and santolina plants, cyclamen, cineraria, violas, petunias and colorful varieties of althernanthera and coleus. Take note of the blue, green and gold colors in the plantings as tribute to our Brewers and Packer fans!

Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory

READ ABOUT THE THREAT

Completed in 1967, the conservatory is located in southern Milwaukee’s 61-acre Mitchell Park, established in 1890 when the Milwaukee Park Commission purchased some 25 acres of land from the Mitchell family. The original conservatory, designed by Henry Koch, was constructed in 1898, along with greenhouses for plant propagation, which provided plants for the conservatory and other parks and boulevards. In 1904, the Sunken Garden was constructed, featuring extensive parterre gardens, fountains, and a large water mirror. The park was transferred from the City of Milwaukee to Milwaukee County in 1937, and the old conservatory was razed in 1955, having suffered from neglect. Local architect Donald Grieb then won a design competition in 1958 for a new conservatory with his innovative plans for three dome-like structures, each 140 feet in diameter and built with a cast-concrete undercarriage covered by a steel-and-glass shell. Construction began in 1959. The Floral Show Dome, which hosts seasonal shows and an annual holiday exhibit, opened in 1964. The Tropical Dome opened in 1966, eventually featuring birds and nearly 1,000 species of plants. The Arid Dome, opened in 1967, is home to a wide variety of plants from Africa and the Americas. A central lobby connects the three domes, and a smaller service dome behind the conservatory contains replacement plants and an orchid collection. Greenhouses separate the domes from the conservatory’s eastern lawn. The beds around the conservatory feature grasses, perennials, shrubs, and small trees, while walking paths meander around a pond to the southeast of the Domes. Budget constraints led to the removal of the Sunken Garden in 1994. In 2008, internal and external lighting systems were installed in the Domes, the central lobby was remodeled, and glass panels were replaced.

The Domes are considered by many to be the gem of Milwaukee’s nationally recognized parks system. The current structures were preceded by a glass-encased conservatory built by the City Park Commission in 1898 on land purchased from the Mitchell family. It was replaced sixty-one years later with a new facility designed by local architect Donald L. Grieb. The new design included three domes: the desert (or arid), the tropical, and the “show” dome featuring seasonal plants and special exhibitions. First Lady “Lady Bird” Johnson dedicated the seasonal dome in September of 1965, while the tropical dome opened in 1966 and the arid in 1967. The construction of the Domes coincided with a larger city revitalization scheme that included the creation of the Milwaukee County Zoo and the relocation of the Milwaukee Public Museum.

Karalee Surface

Footnotes

  1. John Gurda, “Summer under Glass: Mitchell Park’s Conservatory Preceded Mitchell Park Domes,” in Cream City Chronicles: Stories of Milwaukee’s Past, ed. John Gurda (Madison: Wisconsin State Historical Society Press, 2007), 155.
  2. “History of the Domes,” goMilwaukee, county.milwaukee.gov/ConstructionoftheDom10361.htm, accessed October 13, 2011.
  3. “Friends of the Domes: Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory,” accessed October 13, 2011.
  4. “Domes Dedicated by Mrs. Johnson,” The Milwaukee Journal, September 21, 1965, 5; “Parks, Recreational, and Culture Functions,” The Milwaukee Journal, October 28, 1967.
  5. John Gurda, The Making of Milwaukee (Milwaukee: Milwaukee County Historical Society, 1999), 270-271.

Milwaukee Domes: Exploring the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory

In the Midwest, winters can be long and brutal. Those of us who get the winter blues can develop hopelessness and irrational thoughts that winter may never end and we may never see our gardens again. When you experience seasonal affective disorder year after year, you begin to find healthy ways to cope will it. When I find myself suffering from a bad case of the winter blues and can’t just board the next flight to sunny Florida, I have found that visiting indoor greenhouses, nurseries and conservatories can pull me out of that depression.

Open year round, the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory, also known as the Milwaukee Domes, is a great place to escape the dreary winter weather. Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory was constructed of three glass bio domes by Milwaukee architect Donald L. Grieb in 1964-1967. The Domes were dedicated to the people of Wisconsin by famous first lady, Ladybird Johnson in 1965. Each dome was designed as a different climate type. These three domes include the Desert Dome, the Tropical Dome and the Show Dome. In addition to these three domes, Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory also houses a large greenhouse, conference rooms, a lobby, gift shop and a snack & beverage bar.

Desert Dome

The Desert Dome houses a variety of cacti, succulents, desert palms and other unique plants that grow in the hot, arid deserts of Africa, Madagascar, Mexico, South America and North America. This dome is divided into new world and old-world habitats. The old-world habitats of the Desert Dome include rare and endangered desert plants. This dome also houses a pool oasis and an ethnobotanical garden.

In the Tropical Dome, visitors can view a collection of over 1,200 species of tropical rainforest plants from all over the world. These tropical rainforest plants include exotic edibles such as chocolate, banana, vanilla, turmeric, cardamom, starfruit and guava. The Tropical Dome also houses various ponds, streams and waterfalls.

Tropical Dome

The Show Dome hosts five different seasonal displays each year, such as the Spring Flowers Display, the Annual Train Show and the Holiday Show. The floral displays in this dome are changed every 6-14 weeks to match the theme of the seasonal display. The dome also houses a pond and babbling streams. It is the most popular dome for weddings, wedding photography or other special events.

Each dome contains different climate appropriate wildlife, such as birds, frogs, lizards, toads, fish and beneficial insects. No pesticides or chemicals are ever used in the domes, as they rely on a healthy balanced ecosystem and knowledgeable staff to prevent pest or disease. Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory also sustains several outdoor gardens visitors can walk through, and a green roof.

Observing Wildlife

Located at 524 S. Layton Boulevard in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory is open year round Mon-Fri 9-5, Sat-Sun 9-4 and 9-4 on holidays. Admission is only $7 for adult residents of Milwaukee County or $8 for non-residents with children 6-17 and senior’s admission $5 for residents and $6 for non-residents. Children 5 & under are free. On Mondays, Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory offers free admission for Milwaukee County residents. Special admission rates are also included with a Friends of the Domes’ membership. The domes are wheelchair accessible and parking is free.

In addition to self-guided tours, Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory hosts educational guided group tours for schools, companies and other groups or organizations, and the domes or greenhouse can be rented during business hours or after hours for weddings, other special events or educational workshops.

In Buzz

Last updated March 12, 2019 at 8:27 a.m.

A report released today recommends that the Domes (officially called the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory) be demolished and replaced with a new horticultural conservatory that would be paired with a new Milwaukee Public Museum in Mitchell Park on Milwaukee’s South Side.

The report, commissioned by the MPM-Domes Joint Task Force and prepared by Washington, D.C.-based Gallagher & Associates Museum Services, says combining the two institutions on a single site, “could be a great guest experience which integrates the content and stories from Milwaukee Public Museum with the content and experience of the current Domes and Conservatory. Specifically, the natural history portion of the MPM storyline fits very nice with the Domes experiences.”

The report also says that, “the cost of properly renovating the Domes greatly outweighs the benefit of doing so.”

The recommendation from Gallagher and Associates is that the two institutions occupy a new 222,000-square foot building that could be linked to the Milwaukee County greenhouses, built in recent years to the east of the Domes, to create a 284,000-square foot facility.

“The new facility is 60 percent of the physical space of the two existing complexes, which would save approximately 200,000 square feet of building space and provides a very efficient yet very strong guest experience for Milwaukee County and its citizens.”

Gallagher and Associates identified other museums around the world that “have successfully paired the experience of a natural history museum and the immersion of a conservatory or botanical garden,” including examples in Houston, Los Angeles, Montreal and Singapore.

Gallagher also completed a report on potential future options and concepts for a new Milwaukee Public Museum last summer.

Built in the 1960s, the Domes replaced an earlier iron and glass conservatory designed by Henry C. Koch that occupied the site from 1898 until 1955.

They were temporarily closed in 2016 after falling concrete spurred concerns about their structural stability. concrete. In 2017, the National Trust for Historic Preservation declared the Domes a national treasure and said that they could be repaired.

The new report estimates the cost of its proposed plan at $300 million, including an endowment.

“Joining these two institutions would require … a significant amount of planning and study … to execute this plan. A site plan and design of the new facility will need to be conducted; a program and use plan will need to be introduced; a new operating/staff plan will need to be developed; the existing plants from the Domes and collection from MPM need to be transferred; a significant capital campaign will need to take place.

“However, we do think the long term opportunity exists to create a great cultural institution for Milwaukee County and its citizens.”

In response to the report, Milwaukee County Parks issued a statement, saying that the Gallagher, “report and recommendation will be one of several options on the table for the task force and there’s still a wide range of potential opportunities to consider for the future of the Domes and the Museum.”

Milwaukee Public Museum’s interim President and CEO Ellen Censky said in an email, “Today, the MPM-Domes Joint Task Force issued its report on the possibility of co-locating the Milwaukee Public Museum with the Domes at Mitchell Park. MPM has been proud to participate in this task force as we worked to find potential solutions that would preserve the integrity and fulfill the missions of both of these beloved public institutions.

“The process of determining the most ideal location for the museum’s future home is just that – a process. The findings of this report have raised questions and important considerations that will inform our continued study of a new museum and represent another mile marker on the road to making that final determination.”

Domes Director Sandy Folaron did not respond to a request for comment on the report.

Barbara Pahl, Senior Vice President, Field Services at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, following the release of this report:

“Demolition of the Mitchell Park Domes, an iconic symbol of Milwaukee and a National Treasure, would result in an irreparable loss for the community,” said Barbara Pahl, senior vice president, field services at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. “The public has overwhelmingly voiced their support for protecting these local landmarks from disinvestment, destruction and demolition. With support from the County Board of Supervisors, the Domes Task Force is currently preparing detailed reports on two options – targeted investments and destination attraction – neither of which would include demolition of the Domes. This ongoing work is critical to making an informed decision on a preservation solution for the Domes.

“The National Trust and the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, founders of the Save Our Domes Coalition, firmly believe a future for the Domes based on preservation and rehabilitation would be the most cost-effective and environmentally-sustainable approach.”

The report will be sent to task force members on Monday and will be discussed at the Parks, Energy and Environment Committee at 1 p.m. on Tuesday. Gallagher and Associates will make a presentation at that meeting.

The meeting will also include a report from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, requested by the County Board of Supervisors, on the feasibility of the Domes receiving historic tax credits.

Report: The Domes Could be Attracting Many More Visitors Than it Is

A new study identifies opportunities for task force to consider.

Since the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory temporarily closed for preventive repairs in 2016 there has been much discussion about physical challenges facing the three unique-in-the-world, cone-shaped domes. The National Trust for Historic Preservation also named the Domes to its “National Treasures” program and funded an engineering study.

Now, a new report analyzes what happens inside those glasshouses perched above the Menomonee Valley—and what could make the Domes an even-more-captivating destination. The report, by Greater Boston-based ConsultEcon, Inc., specifies ways the conservatory could attract more visitors, serve broader community audiences and needs, and increase its economic impact by notching up operations, marketing and programming. ConsultEcon vice president Robert E. Brais presented many potential opportunities at the December meeting of the Mitchell Park Conservatory Task Force, which includes citizens and county officials.

ConsultEcon is part of a team hired by Milwaukee County and led by Milwaukee architectural firm HGA. The “Future Path Feasibility Study” process will help chart a future vision for the 50-year-old conservatory. ConsultEcon provides “economic, feasibility, management and planning services to nonprofit organizations, public agencies and private businesses,” and has assisted many botanical gardens, museums and other destinations, including more than 60 in the Midwest.

The report followed a study of the Domes’ facilities and operations, the Greater Milwaukee destination market, and conservatories and botanical gardens, especially in similar-sized metro areas. Among its findings are that the Domes attract significant attendance with few employees — by far the highest ratio among local attractions. That translates to 16,154 attendees per each of its 13 full-time-equivalent employees. (For comparison, the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum achieves the next-highest ratio: 6,154 attendees per FTE. The Milwaukee County Zoo attracts 3,714 attendees per FTE, and also receives much-higher budgetary support from the county.)

Also, despite meager marketing, the Domes are the 5th-most-popular attraction in Metropolitan Milwaukee (among public and nonprofit institutions). With 210,000 visitors in 2015 — 81 percent from Wisconsin — it trails only the Milwaukee County Zoo, Milwaukee Public Museum, Discovery World and Milwaukee Art Museum.

Nonetheless, the report asserts that Domes attendance could increase — in some cases dramatically — through “targeted investments.” Numerous options “would not be huge undertakings but could make a big difference” in positively improving the visitor experience and increasing attendance, said Brais. That could include higher-quality changing exhibits and interpretative displays; integration of science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM) education within programming; exhibits and programs about native-plant ecology, sustainability and landscaping; night-time educational events; children’s gardens and butterfly or “insectarium” exhibits and programs.

Other upgrades could include a visitor orientation/theater space and food-service facilities. New on-site greenhouses could also be integrated into public programming or used to grow more plants for sale.

Brais said that even-greater investments could further establish the Domes as a tourist destination. These “aspirational opportunities” reflect trends in successful horticultural conservatories and botanical gardens. They would likely need to include organizational improvements and require “significant private/philanthropic capital funding for implementation.” In turn, they could yield major community benefits and impacts, including much-greater economic development and tourism, the report noted.

Those options include world-class exhibits relating to horticultural ecosystems; converting the current “show dome” to a third climate-exhibit space; a canopy-walk structure within one or more dome; new space dedicated to changing-exhibit programming; and the return of botanical gardens in Mitchell Park to promote year-round attendance. Enhanced amenities could support longer visits and drive attendance with broader geographic reach. Increased staffing, as well as branding and advertising, could help sustain long-term success. Alternately, the task force could choose to recommend repurposing the Domes for other uses or even razing them and reusing the site.

Other local institutions, including educational entities, could join forces with the conservatory to broaden audience appeal with new exhibits and programming. Brais said such partnerships might range from occasional shared use of facilities, to sponsorships, to a permanent organizational merger. In response to questions from task force members about prospective partners, Brais stressed that it was important to “determine your vision first,” and then enlist partners who you might help to achieve that vision.

Task force members will begin evaluating and prioritizing these opportunities at their next meeting, tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 17 at 3 p.m. at a location to be determined. Meeting notices and minutes are posted online.

Brais said creating a vision “will take a while to unfold.” Task force chair William Lynch said he hopes the committee will develop up to three potential scenarios, which will then be presented to governmental leadership, potential partners and citizens. Brais said a compelling vision will be more likely to inspire partnerships and community support.

Horticulture Domes – Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory (The Domes)

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