Knowledge Center

Brighten the Passage

Brighten the Passage is a public space and infrastructure improvement project aimed at consciously rebuilding physical and sociological connections between downtown Milwaukee’s central business district and the Historic Third Ward neighborhoods – connections that have been severed for decades by the I-794 elevated freeway. The project enhancements are practical and impactful tactics that included large-scale murals on the freeway support piers and dynamic, programmable color changing LED lighting. In addition, the project also includes some new strategic streetscape improvements such as corner bumpouts and planting beds.

Brighten the Passage is an implementation of the vision embodied in the City of Milwaukee’s 2010 Downtown Master Plan, and further developed by a Milwaukee Downtown-led nighttime economy study. In a public-private partnership with the adjacent Historic Third Ward BID #2, the management organizations rallied support from the business community and various federal, state, and local governmental entities around a common goal of improving the under-freeway areas to better reconnect neighborhoods. Through the successful completion of Brighten the Passage, residents, workers and visitors alike have a new unique community asset that also attracts more business patrons to the area.

In fall 2020, the four I-794 freeway support piers that frame Broadway were transformed with art installations that have created one of the most unique outdoor urban art collections in the region. Tia Richardson, The Couto Brothers, Josephine Rice and Dave Watkins brought their individual styles to life in the corridor.

In December 2020, Phase Two of the Brighten the Passage project was completed with the installation of 75 programmable aesthetic lights under I-794 at both Broadway and Water Street to create an enhanced sense of place and further fulfill the project goals. The dynamic lighting array, featuring different seasonal settings and pre-programmed effects for ethnic festivals, holidays, and celebrations, can now be viewed nightly.

Project Details

Brighten the Passage

Milwaukee Downtown, Business Improvement District #21


Planning, Design and Infrastructure
$4000001 - $5000000

Project Resources