MILWAUKEE — The Urban Ecology Center’s new Washington Park location is one step closer to reality after the nonprofit announced they’ve secured $1.3 million in tax credits.
The UEC broke ground on a new two-story building in August 2023 and plans to open it this fall. Other redevelopment efforts in the project include a new observation deck and expansion from 10 to 20 acres of green space that the UEC will revitalize and manage.
The additional $1.3 million in funding comes from New Market Tax Credits, which are intended to incentivize development and economic growth in historically marginalized communities.
“We’re looking forward to growing our Neighborhood Environmental Education Project from 13 schools to 31 schools within a two-mile radius of Washington Park,” said UEC Executive Director Jen Hense. “The idea with the two-mile radius is that kids are connected to the park. They’re building ownership of a green space that they can get on their bike or get on a bus and come back to.”
Thanks to the tax credit addition, 85% of the funding for the $19.6 million project has been secured. Hense told WTMJ they can now turn their focus to planning out the educational programming updates and expansions at the new facility.
The Neighborhood Environmental Education Project, one of the UEC’s cornerstone programs, features field trips with 24 different field experience options to choose from. Program activites range from basic wildlife and ecology studies to canoeing and snowshoeing.
“Our environmental educators use our buses to go pick the kids up at their schools,” said Hense. “Whatever they’re learning in the classroom at the time is then paired with an experience at Washington Park.”
The UEC began raising funds to reimagine its outdated and inefficient building at Washington Park in 2021. The location’s original building opened in 2007 at the former site of the Milwaukee County Zoo. The Washington Park branch is currently operating out of the Washington Park Pool House while the new site construction is underway.
The Urban Ecology Center has two other branches in Milwaukee: Riverside Park and Menomonee Valley.