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Revisting the Milwaukee County Pass

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on March 16, 2010

From Milwaukee County First:

In a rather disturbing story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, it is being reported that the Milwaukee Public Museum wants to either move or even eliminate the free day for Milwaukee County citizens:

Museum officials are asking Milwaukee County to consider moving the free day, perhaps to Tuesday or Sunday, or eliminating the free day altogether in favor of an admission discount for county residents, said museum President and CEO Dan Finley. The current free admission on Mondays applies only to Milwaukee County residents.

Finley said the purpose of raising the issue was not necessarily to try to bring in more revenue to the museum, but to bring uniformity to various county attractions.

“With all the cultural institutions in town, there is a hodgepodge of discounts for county residents,” Finley said Monday. “It would be easier on all the residents if we had consistency among all the institutions.”

In the comments thread of the article, people are saying they would like to see an universal pass for all of the attractions in Milwaukee County.  The comments include these:

rpantuso – Mar 15, 2010 9:30 PM

I would like to see some sort of “super pass” We buy a museum membership and a zoo membership every year, I carry a golf discount card. I would just like to pay a few hundred bucks and get into the Museum, Art Museum, Zoo, Cool Waters etc and get a discount on golf. I’d bet that would be pretty popular.

Betsychem – Mar 15, 2010 9:44 PM

“It would be easier on all the residents if we had consistency among all the institutions.” Why, yes, it sure would be “easier” if the free day were eliminated and replaced by a small discount. Please don’t insult our intelligence.

On a less annoyed note, I agree with rpantuso that a pass valid at multiple Milwaukee-area venues is a great idea! Currently, my family alternates between annual memberships at MPM and Discovery World.

This immediately brought to mind a suggestion that Milwaukee County First first proposed last year.  The proposal was to have a Milwaukee County Pass that would offer discounts for the museum, the art museum, the zoo, our parks, golf courses and water parks, as well as many other attractions:

It was during these conversations that the idea of creating some sort of county pass, which would allow people to buy one pass that would allow them access to some of our wonderful institutions like the zoo, the public museum and the art museum.

This is not a new idea.  The zoo has their Zoo Pass, which allows people unlimited admission to the zoo, at a price that would be much less than if they paid for their admission each time they visited.  The Milwaukee Public Museum and the Milwaukee Art Museum also have similar deals for their supporters.

We were already aware that many other communities already had similar programs to help promote tourism in their communities.  Local blogger Nick Schweitzer pointed me in the direction of which already provides this type of things for many communities including New York, Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia and many other places.

I would think that it would be relatively easy for Milwaukee County to come to terms with this company to help tourism.  They could have admissions to the Milwaukee County Zoo, the Milwaukee Public Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Mitchell Park Conservatory (commonly known as the Domes).  Since it appears that likes to have five sites, the fifth could be more of an a la carte matter, with possible choices including the Boerner Botanical Gardens, the Wehr Nature Center, or one of the water parks.

Another choice would be if the County wanted to help defray their costs they could bring in some of the privately-owned attractions such as the Pabst Mansion or the Harley Museum.

While would be the easy way of doing it, including having them do the promotional work as well, I would like to see the County look at establishing their own program, similar to’s.

There would be some benefits for the County to do this thing themselves.   They would be cutting out the middle man, helping bringing more money in to the County.  It would also allow them more leeway in how to do this.  For example, they could have more a la carte attractions, and not be limited to just five things.  If people wanted to see more than just five attractions, they could simply add those other places to their pass for a nominal fee.

By the County doing this themselves, it could also include unlimited rides on the buses and trolleys, not to mention the rail systems that will be in place someday.

They could also help defray costs in administering this by including the privately-owned attractions mentioned above, as well as tickets to see the Milwaukee Symphony or other events at the Performing Arts Center  They could also consider adding on some of our more popular restaurants unique to our community, such as Mader’s, 5 O’clock Club (formerly known as Coerper’s), any of the Bartolotta’s places or any of our other great restaurants, with discounts of some sort if they choose to add them to their pass.

Whether the County decides to enter into a business agreement with or to try to do this alone, I recognize that this will, by no stretch of the imagination, be a cure all for the County’s money problems.  But I do believe that it could help, if done properly.  And I feel it would be safe to say that it would definitely bring more people and money to the Milwaukee area than sending the county executive out each year on a self-serving bike ride ever could.

I was recently told that this idea never even made it to committee do to the train wreck of a budget that Scott Walker dumped on the County and all of the problems it has created.

I say it is now time to reopen and reconsider the possibility of doing this.  The benefits of enacting such a pass would be many.

Not only would it promote our grand county to tourists from around the state and the country, it would provide some much needed breaks to the already overburdened citizens of Milwaukee County.

It will help increase revenue for Milwaukee not just the tourists, but also the people in Milwaukee who cannot afford the high costs of gasoline and hotels, and have chosen to do a “staycation.”

It could also be used to draw more businesses to Milwaukee County, just as Mayor Tom Barrett has done for the City of Milwaukee.  This will increase jobs and further ease the economy.  Of course, this would be even more true if the state legislature would ever get their act together and pass the dedicated sales tax that would not only save our parks and transit from certain disaster, but restore them to their previous grandeur.

It could also help some of the social stresses that are common in a down economy, not only by giving the citizens a break on these attractions, but giving families a chance to do something positive together.  I would think that having parents being able to take their kids to the zoo or the museum would be a much more preferable alternative to having the kids run the streets and get into mischief.

I am fully aware of the terrible fiscal straits and shocking state of disrepair that Scott Walker has led the County into.  I am also fully aware that the Supervisors are trying to stem the damage and prevent it from getting even worse.   But I would argue that this is all the more reason for the Supervisors look at this proposal with earnest and seriousness.  The people of Milwaukee County are asking for it, and it will only help all of us in the short and long runs.


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