$2 million renovation planned for Milwaukee's Breakwater Lighthouse

Jesse Ritka

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$2 million renovation planned for Milwaukee's Breakwater Lighthouse

By Jesse Ritka. CREATED Oct 8, 2013 - UPDATED: Oct 8, 2013

MILWAUKEE - Behind the Summerfest grounds, along the lakefront, is a place where many people go to see the skyline and all that Milwaukee has to offer.

However, there's one place that you can see but don't have access to, just yet: The Milwaukee Breakwater Lighthouse.  “It's been here, in our harbor  as an icon for almost 90 years and I think it's almost been something that people have looked past,” Carolyn Chamberlin tells TODAY’S TMJ4’s Jesse Ritka. 

That’s because the lighthouse has been empty for nearly 50 years and it’s slightly worse for the wear. Chamberlin says, “It certainly has to have some TLC.”

And that much needed TLC will soon be coming from Brookfield non-profit group, Optima Enrichment.

Randall Melchert founded the group in 2003, “Optima is not based around lighthouses, Optima started to help underprivileged kids, help kids get rides to summer camps, to colleges.”  But after seeing an article in the Milwaukee Journal about the lighthouse being available to a non-profit group for free, Melchert decided the beacon was worth looking into.

“The coast guard took us out when we were first applying to make sure that when we saw it and we saw all the work that needed to be done, especially on the inside,” Melchert explains.  Wanting to make sure that Optima Enrichment knew the reality of what they were getting into as they were applying for the deed to the icon, “Yes, that we were still interested, that we would be able to take on a project of that magnitude.”

And the interest was maintained, even during the two and a half year application process, but Optima Enrichment now has the key to the historic lighthouse, “I was just thankful, after 2.5 years that we actually had the keys, that was just very exciting.”

Optima Enrichment hired Brookfield-based Chamberlin Group as the project manager to help refurbish the beacon.  They plan to include a nautical museum, a space for youth groups and for the general public to visit at the lighthouse, “The view from up in the top balcony is just amazing to see all the different parts of Milwaukee and to see the skyline,” Melchert exclaims.

This could be a $2.2 million project, a large price-tag for a small non-profit, “Now we're in the fundraising aspect of it and to raise that kind of money will be challenging,” Melchert admits.

But there are more hurdles, one of the hardest being the simple fact that you can't even get to the lighthouse by land."  Melchert explains how hard it will be for the clean-up and construction crews to even get to the work site, “They have to load everything onto a boat or a barge, transport it out a half mile out into Lake Michigan.”

But with the help of the community, the beacon’s future may be bright.  “I think the timing now is absolutely perfect for having something out in the harbor start to shine again,” Chamberlin says.

If the fundraising and refurbishments go as planned, the renovation may be complete by the lighthouse’s 90th anniversary in 2016.  Click here for more information on helping with the project.

Jesse Ritka

Jesse Ritka

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Jesse Ritka joined TODAY’S TMJ4 and Storm Team 4 in February 2011 as the “Live at Daybreak” weekend meteorologist. Growing up in Prior Lake, Minnesota, Jesse has always been fascinated by storms.