East North Avenue parking lot could become outdoor dining, public art space
A city-owned parking lot in the heart of East North Avenue later this summer could be transformed into a gathering space with picnic tables painted by artists.
The concept by the East Side Business Improvement District would help restaurants reopening after the pandemic by providing outdoor seating for people buying carry-out, said Liz Brodek, executive director of the East Side Business Improvement District.
“My grand vision for this is we can actually make it into a truly accessible public space,” Brodek said.
Restaurants are operating under limited capacity due to Covid-19 restrictions, so outdoor seating has emerged as a way to host more customers. Brodek helped create the city’s Active Streets for Businesses program, which helps restaurants set up more tables on streets and sidewalks.
The new public art and picnic table concept would take over the city parking lot sandwiched between Von Trier and Beans & Barley. The East Side BID secured a $1,000 AARP Wisconsin grant to help buy 10 picnic tables and recruit artists to paint them. Ideally, Brodek said, it could become an annual feature with bistro lights and murals on the brick walls that border the parking lot. Local businesses have volunteered to help program the space with pop-up markets or music, she said.
“I’ve never seen more than four cars in that lot, so we got this idea to help businesses,” Brodek said. “We can start creating this really cool, public space that is made by and for the area.”
The timing is in flux because city approval is still required to use the lot. Brodek said ideally the tables could be painted and in place in August. She is working with Wallpapered City, a Milwaukee organization that helps connects artists with public mural opportunities, to select painters. Wallpapered City also supports the murals on display in the East Side’s Black Cat Alley.
At the end of the summer season, the painted picnic tables will be sold to local businesses or organizations, raising money that can help finance the project, Brodek said. The East Side BID will also apply for a city of Milwaukee Community Improvement Project grant, she said.