Milwaukee Ballet announces partners for new building
At its annual meeting late Tuesday afternoon, the Milwaukee Ballet announced that UWM’s Dance Program and Froedert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin will be partners in a new facility in Downtown Milwaukee. The call their agreement in principle The Harmony Initiative.
The building would include a full-service sports clinic, extensive dance studios and, of particular importance for dance fans, the 300-seat, dance-friendly performance space Milwaukee has always needed. That space would house UWM dance department shows, which currently take place on campus in a makeshift theater in Mitchell Hall or the wholly inadequate Main Stage Theater. It could also be available as a second stage for the Milwaukee Ballet, for dancers from the ranks who want to put on their own works, and as a rental for outside companies.
Dennis Buehler, the MBC’s executive director, has been shopping the idea for a new facility for the ballet for a couple years now. A Dohmen Family grant of $1 million over five years built momentum. A fresh $1 million from the Herzfeld Foundation, announced at the meeting Tuesday, will keep it going, as the ballet and its partners move into the next phase.
In an interview with TCD on Sept. 23, Buehler said that the grants had allowed the company to develop the idea of a new space without pinching the operations budget.
“We went into it with a blank slate, to find the strongest partnerships,” he said. “Now we’re into defined partners and a more specific vision.”
“Our commitment is to integrate programs and business plans in ways that are sustainable,” Buehler said. “We will all have equity roles in long-term success. This is not just what’s in it for the Milwaukee Ballet.”
The space will be designed from the ground up with all three partners in mind. UWM, like the Milwaukee Ballet School, is bursting at the seams with students. Studio space is a top priority. Late night and business hours, Buehler sees yoga, Pilates and other health-and-wellness classes filling those studios. He believes that the presence of both a sports medicine clinic and a university in the building will create an image of dance as a healthy practice and will create opportunities for advanced research in sports medicine.
The partnerships grow from long-term relationships between the ballet and UWM dance and between the company the Medical College/Froedert sports medicine clinic, which has tended to dancers’ injuries and maintenance for many years.
The original impetus for a new building is the poor condition of the company’s present home, the Jodi Peck Center, at 5th and National. As the company struggled financially over the 30 years since, it deferred maintenance. Now, those issues have become critical. But the whether to invest millions in an aging building or move on wasn’t the only question. The building simply lacks the square footage to accommodate the burgeoning Milwaukee Ballet School. The shower and dressing facilities and offices are cramped. Off-street parking doesn’t exist, and there is no room at all to add partners.
Also, Buehler wants a higher profile location, with plenty of glass so the public can see company rehearsals from the street. He spoke about a Water Street location fairly close to the Marcus Center, although no site has been selected. That will come in the next phase, which Buehler in part defined in the interview:
“At some point, architects and developers will be brought in, but that would be premature just now. We have to put together a campaign cabinet, we’ll have to put a number (price tag) on it, we’ll have to find a site. The Water Street corridor seems to make the most sense.
“This isn’t so different from when the Rep was developed. A lot of things that could come together did come together (in the 1980s, when the Rep’s conversion of an old power plant leveraged construction of an office tower and hotel and gave new life to the Pabst Theater). The Rep never could have done that on its own.”
Buehler said that all parties are working closely with the City of Milwaukee to leverage the new facility as an economic driver for the blocks around it.
“The Herzfeld Foundation recognized that this is bigger than just the ballet,” Buehler said. “This is for the city for the whole arts community. It could be a catalytic project.”