Discovery Parkway got the green light from the Common Council on Tuesday in a vote approving a $7.3 million contract.
The parkway will provide access to the land in Innovation Park, an 87-acre site east of Highway 45 and north of Watertown Plank Road.
The new boulevard will eventually connect Watertown Plank Rooad, east of the Milwaukee Parks building, with Swan Boulevard on the north, and provide access to the Eschweiler site and parcels available for development on the south side of the lot.
The site is part of the city's tax-incremental financing district No. 6, which will allow the city to recoup its investment in the infrastructure through increased collections arising from development in the area.
Debate among the council members centered on a retaining wall that plans show would be built just off Watertown Plank, where the roadway would curve to the left around a site slated for development. The wall adds more than $600,000 to the cost of the road, but City Administrator Jim Archambo said a graded site, instead of a flat one, would be a challenging site to develop, and might cost the city more in the end in incentives to attract a developer.
"It's an innovation park," Alderwoman Jill Organ said. "Why are we doing all these cookie-cutter sites?"
Designing a unique building built into a hillside would be a creative opportunity, she suggested.
"I'd like to see things done in our Innovation Park that are truly innovative."
Development Director Paulette Enders said the wall, shown in a rendering festooned with plants, is itself innovative, and the hard reality of development is that "it tends to be about cost."
The council voted, 15-1, to approve the contract, with Organ voting "no."
For such a large site, development lots are fairly limited.
In a presentation, Finance Director John Ruggini showed that of the 87.34 total acres, the state Department of Transportation would claim 18.65 acres for a circular interchange connecting Watertown Plank and Swan Boulevard; a butterfly habitat on the site would preserve 10.98 acres; common areas that include storm sewers would take up 20.48 acres; and the Milwaukee County Parks building sits on a 5.25-acre parcel.
Of the roughly 32 acres that remains, 8.5 acres includes the Eschweiler buildings and land set aside in and around them for residential development. Subtract another 6.7 acres for parking, and the land left for commercial development is just 16.7 acres.
Part of that property will be used for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's 25,000-square-foot Innovation Accelerator building, which should start to go up next month, and Archambo said that leaves seven prime parcels.
Interest had already been shown in a lot near the highway, he said.
City development projections of the available lots envision $100 million in assessed property added to the city's tax rolls.