APPLETON – The city has agreed to begin discussions with the Trout Museum of Art about the museum’s desire to move to public land at Ellen Kort Peace Park on the Fox River.
The Joint Council on Wednesday authorized staff to explore a possible partnership with the museum. The vote was 9-3 with one abstention.
“Regardless of the final decision, and I’m still not convinced, we owe the community a thorough review of the proposal,” Councilor Denise Fenton said.
The Trout Museum decided to build a 30,000-square-foot museum rather than renovate its existing building next to Houdini Plaza, and its preferred location is Ellen Kort Peace Park.
Executive Director Christina Turner estimated the cost of the new museum at $10 million. Monroe and Sandra Trout donated $5 million to the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region to support the project.
Appleton already has a master plan to develop Ellen Kort Peace Park as a passive park, and grading and trail construction has begun, but city officials have agreed to negotiate with the Trout Museum.
After the council vote, Mayor Jake Woodford clarified the importance of the action.
“Management does not take this as authorization to proceed to a project plan,” he said. “We are aware that there will be many steps in this process.”
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Councilor Bill Siebers abstained, saying he was uncomfortable proceeding without knowing the details of the proposal.
“What I’m hearing is, ‘It’s a great idea. It’s done. Let’s just add the details and move on,'” Siebers said. “I am not there.”
Councilor Nate Wolff was also uneasy but voted in favor of the talks.
“I’m uncomfortable with the fact that some things feel like the Forellenmuseum and its partners assume that if this happens here, that’s a done deal,” Wolff said.
Council members Vaya Jones, Vered Meltzer and Israel Del Toro voted against opening talks with the museum. Jones said residents had expressed many concerns about the proposal.
“I don’t think it’s going to be just a conversation,” Jones said. “I think the tsunami of money and power behind this decision … will quash what our neighbors are saying.”
Meltzer also said that public opinion does not support the continuation of the talks.
“Our green spaces are limited,” said Meltzer. “We only have a certain amount available, and when green space is taken away, it doesn’t come back. This is a limited resource and when it’s gone, it’s gone. I would much rather see the Trout Museum collaborate with the city on another area.”
During a public forum, Cindy Kort, one of Ellen Kort’s daughters, encouraged the city to engage in dialogue with the museum.
“We think our mother would support this collaboration,” she said.
Curt Detjen, President and CEO of the community foundation, also called on the council to continue negotiations.
“Today’s opportunity promises so much to create a unique place where our residents and our visitors want to be,” said Detjen.
Elisa DeGroot, who lives in Appleton, offered a different perspective. She said the museum’s proposal contradicts the city’s own plan for the Ellen Kort Peace Park, which was developed with community contributions.
She said the sudden change in plans “represents a cancellation of a commitment by the Common Council to the people of Appleton that will result in the effective deletion of a city park.”
“It becomes a corporate campus,” DeGroot continued, “and Ellen Kort Park becomes a meaningless footnote in the shadow of a giant building.”
The Trout Museum moved to its current location at 111 W. College Ave. in 2002, when it was still known as the Appleton Art Center. In 2010, the Trouts donated their art collection to the center and established a $1 million endowment to preserve, protect, and promote the collection. At that time, the center was renamed the Trout Museum of Art.
The seven-acre Ellen Kort Peace Park nestles between the Fox River and West Water Street just west of the Oneida Skyline Bridge. It is named in honor of Kort, a Fox Cities literary giant who served as Wisconsin’s first Poet Laureate (2000 to 2004). She died in 2015.
The master plan for the park envisions lighted pathways, two circular lawns, a peace ring, sculptures, a peace pole, a poets garden, a quilt garden, a butterfly garden, a gazebo, a pavilion with restrooms, and a curving, stilt-supported walkway that curves over the edge of the park Fox River extends.
Last fall, Appleton remitted $750,000 from David and Rita Nelson River Crossing to pay for the first phase of park development, which is ongoing.
Dean Gazza, Appleton’s director of parks, recreation and facility management, said city officials had discussed the minimum terms needed to partner with the Trout Museum and asked the council to confirm the terms to authorize further negotiations.
- The city retains the land. Long-term rental is recommended.
- Park development costs and the value of a lease will be determined through the appraisal process, and the museum will compensate the city for both. Gazza said the museum “recognizes that the city expects to be financially healthy with any arrangement at Ellen Kort Peace Park.”
- The museum design will incorporate sustainable features to minimize the building’s environmental impact.
- City officials must be involved in the design of the museum to ensure compliance with park, neighborhood and environmental regulations.
Contact Duke Behnke at 920-993-7176 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @DukeBehnke.