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County supervisor makes another push to grow hemp to save domes

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Posted at 5:26 PM, Sep 06, 2019

MILWAUKEE — A Milwaukee County supervisor believes her revised proposal to grow hemp at the Mitchell Park Greenhouses could help pay for the county’s portion for renovations needed to save the domes. Her plan would involve a public/private partnership between the county and hemp growers.

The Domes task force said plans to restore the domes would cost $66 million, with about $13.5 million coming directly from Milwaukee County. Supervisor Sylvia Ortiz-Velez believes growing hemp in one of the greenhouses could pay for the county’s portion.

The Mitchell Park Domes have been a Milwaukee landmark for more than 50 years.

"The domes, to me, represents a place in our community that all people can go to," said Ortiz-Velez.

But with netting in place to catch falling debris, the domes have seen better days. A task force considered demolishing the iconic structures but ultimately recommended restoring them. Ortiz-Velez said there's one problem.

"We don’t have the 13.5 million dollars," said Ortiz-Velez.

Ortiz-Velez has been pushing for one solution for the last year: growing hemp in one of the greenhouses behind the domes.

"This could provide the revenue needed to pay that loan," she said.

Originally, Ortiz-Velez suggested growing hemp for CBD oil, but a county feasibility study dismissed the idea in April.

"Hemp production is an industrial agricultural operation that requires vast amounts of land to be profitable and the Mitchell Park Greenhouses do not have adequate space," read the report.

"We would be taking mother plants, we would be growing them with different specified nutrients and we would be snipping little pieces of them and cloning those plants." — Al Musa, CEO of the Wisconsin Growers Alliance

However, Ortiz-Velez hasn’t given up on her vision; she’s just tweaked it. Rather than growing hemp for CBD, she found the Mitchell Park Greenhouses are better equipped to grow hemp clones.

"I know a significant amount of farmers that have purchased clones from Colorado and other states across the country and didn’t get what they were expecting," said Al Musa, CEO of the Wisconsin Growers Alliance.

Musa of Milwaukee owns and operates a 30,000-square-foot greenhouse to grow hemp clones for Wisconsin farmers. He wants to do the same for Milwaukee County.

"We would be taking mother plants, we would be growing them with different specified nutrients and we would be snipping little pieces of them and cloning those plants," he said.

According to Musa, hemp clones are worth about $5.42 each. He believes one Mitchell Park greenhouse could grow 25,000 a month, making the county $1.6 million a year.

Ortiz-Velez said she already has enough support from the parks committee to get her proposal to a full county board vote as early as sometime next month.