A Hard Winter, but Spring Brings Hope

Dispatch: Milwaukee

A Hard Winter, But Spring Brings Hope

By Kenneth R. Lamke

Besides snow and cold, bad economic news got dumped on Milwaukee almost daily this past winter. Corporate revenue losses and job cuts piled up like dirty snow piles.

Smaller economic flurries also depressed the winter mood. Locally owned Heinemann's Restaurants abruptly shut down after 86 years in business. The Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops chain announced it would close after 82 years. The 16-year-old Hal Leonard Jazz Series at the Pabst Theater ended. The Milwaukee Art Museum, including its high-profile Calatrava wing, said it would open only six days a week this year, not seven. And, at the other end of the culture scale, the Potawatomi Bingo Casino shut down a casual restaurant that had opened only six months earlier.

More little cuts to the culture of Milwaukee, broadly defined, appeared certain to occur throughout 2009.

True, these smaller closings are not the end of the world. The end of the world actually occurred in 1965, when the Milwaukee Braves moved to Atlanta.
As local historian John Gurda has noted, Milwaukee's economic and political power probably peaked around 1960 relative to other cities.

Since then, the city's population has fallen, industrial and commercial enterprises have disappeared, income growth has not kept pace with the rest of the country, crime has increased, and the school system doesn't work anymore - or at least its students don't.

And yet, much here is better than it was 50 years ago.

We now have: a solidly grounded arts community, including symphony, ballet, opera and theater; the Milwaukee Bucks basketball franchise; a revitalized downtown of new office and residential buildings; school choice; a crime rate that, while worse than in 1960, is better than it has been; a fairly stable housing market; the Calatrava; new industries and revitalized older ones - albeit all hit by the current downturn; and more.

Such as the Milwaukee Brewers, playing in a retractable-roof ballpark. The world didn't end in 1965 after all, because God, or Bud, or somebody, brought the Brewers here in 1969.

The home opener is April 10. Let it snow. The world isn't likely to end in 2009, either.

Now retired, journalist Kenneth R. Lamke struck fear in the hearts of Wisconsin politicians for several decades.