(Dennis Raschke, Milwaukee RiverWalk District)

Milwaukee RiverWalk, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA
Developers: The Milwaukee RiverWalk District Inc., the Mandel Group, Business Improvement District No. 2 , The Brewery Works Inc., et al.
Designer: KenKay Associates, Mary Miss, Engberg Anderson Architects, et al.
Site size: 9 acres (3.5 ha)  

Milwaukee’s RiverWalk system draws hundreds of thousands of people to the shores of the Milwaukee River each year. Built through strong public/private partnerships, the RiverWalk is both a leisure space and a pedestrian thoroughfare. The accessible three-mile (4.8 km) system runs through the heart of downtown Milwaukee, with paths that average 12 feet wide (4 m) on each side of the river and public access points about every 400 feet (120 m). 

Through a total investment of $52 million, properties adjacent to the RiverWalk have generated a $1 billion increase in property value since construction began. The RiverWalk has redefined downtown Milwaukee, helping create one of the most successful redevelopment corridors in Wisconsin and a lively commercial, residential, entertainment, and recreation center. Milwaukee has embraced the RiverWalk as a natural asset. Because people are invited to the water’s edge, new, imaginative additions have followed, including artwork and decoration, athletics and recreation, and dining and celebrations of Milwaukee’s culture. 

During the 1980s, local leaders and property owners invited a renewed focus on the river. They saw the river as a way to connect downtown development with new business and leisure activities. In 1988, Mayor John Norquist announced the RiverWalk Initiative, a collaborative economic development plan to construct a downtown river walk.  

The RiverWalk and its associated river cleanup were catalytic, advancing significant private sector investment in Milwaukee’s downtown. Developers transformed warehouses, tanneries, breweries, and an abandoned industrial corridor into 2,800 luxury and affordable residential units, 4.7 million square feet (437,000 sq m) of office space, 515 hotel rooms, performing arts centers, and dozens of riverfront businesses and restaurants.