Sigma engineers create sustainable gateway with Milwaukee Freshwater Plaza water feature


Milwaukee’s urban landscape on the shores of Lake Michigan is taking some dramatic new shapes in the form of sustainable water-centric design.

The Sigma Group is at the forefront of this movement in planning and engineering unique projects like Freshwater Plaza near the Kinnickinnic River on Milwaukee’s near south side. Freshwater Plaza is a 7.72-acre, 180,000-square foot commercial, office and residential development that is part of a larger overall redevelopment of Milwaukee’s Inner Harbor area.

The City of Milwaukee and UW – Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences aim to have Freshwater Plaza to serve as a symbolic and sculptural gateway to the Inner Harbor District. That’s where Sigma contributed by leading a team of architects, engineers, scientists, students and contractors on the design and delivery of a cutting edge sustainable water feature.

The water feature runs about two city blocks along the main entrance to the development with a recirculating pool fed primarily by stormwater from the building’s roof.

Other design elements demonstrating advances in water technology, green infrastructure engineering, and ecologically progressive urban landscape design include:

  • Water quality treatment relying on wetland filter plantings
  • Creation of ecologically beneficial environment appropriate to the area
  • Maximum stormwater storage of close to 40,000 gallons with the benefit of using no potable water in the feature

The project also demonstrated cutting-edge stormwater management techniques along with removal of underground storage tanks, site remediation, and engineered barriers, including clean soil caps.

Freshwater Plaza will be a catalyst to the local neighborhood by providing a Cermak Fresh Market grocery store and other national and local retail tenants, along with new residential units. The Plaza sits on a brownfield site of a former foundry and is connected to a mixed-use trail system near the adjacent Kinnickinnic River.