Lighting and art project under I-794 in downtown Milwaukee wins award

A project that created aesthetic lighting and public art beneath I-794 in downtown Milwaukee, part of a series of improvements to animate this area, won an international award.

Brighten the Passage, which sits under the freeway along North Broadway and North Water Street, received an Award of Excellence for Downtown Achievement from the International Downtown Association.

The award, announced Wednesday, recognizes Milwaukee Downtown Inc., which operates the Milwaukee Downtown Business Improvement District, and its partner, the Historic Third Ward Business Improvement District.

The award “recognizes an excellent response to a challenge in the management of urban places,” according to the announcement.

This challenge: how to improve the connections between the city center and the third district, which are separated by I-794,

Lighting the passage had two phases.

In the fall of 2020, the four supporting pillars of I-794 that frame Broadway were transformed with art installations by artists Tia Richardson, the Couto brothers, Josephine Rice and Dave Watkins.

In January, programmable aesthetic lighting was installed on Broadway and Water Street under I-794. It was designed by Ring & DuChateau, installed by Lemberg and programmed by Main Stage.

“Improving underused areas that discourage pedestrian activity is a goal advanced with this project,” said Matt Dorner, director of economic development for Milwaukee Downtown.

“We want residents, workers and visitors to not only feel like a unique and vibrant place, but we also want to create exciting new attractions that bring more customers to the area for our businesses,” Dorner said in a statement.

“Milwaukee Downtown and its partners have demonstrated a skillful application of urban place management principles with its Brighten the Passage initiative,” said David Downey, president and CEO of the International Downtown Association, based in Washington, DC.

Other new improvements in the area under I-794 include wider, more attractive sidewalks in the 500 block of North Broadway; pickleball courts and event space under I-794 in the 400 block of North Water Street, and a renovated Pompeii plaza east of North Jackson Street between the I-794 turnoff to North Van Buren Street and East St. Paul Avenue.

In addition, the downtown group is raising funds for a dog park under I-794 between the Milwaukee River and North Plankinton Avenue.

The group is funded by special tax assessments on downtown commercial properties.

Tom Daykin can be emailed to [email protected] and followed by Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.


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