Bruce Murphy
Back in the News

Can Old Warner Theater Be Saved?

Journal Sentinel picks up on our story, and Marcus Corp. says it will consider selling building.

By - Jul 8th, 2013 12:55 pm
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On June 12th Urban Milwaukee reported on a proposed project to reclaim and renovate the old Warner movie theater, last known as the Grand Theatre, and turn it into an arts complex. This morning’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has now gotten to the story, with an article by reporter Coral Garnick.

The story by Brian Jacobson offered more details on how the project would expand the building: “Because the building was built as a movie theater, the stage is small,” Garnick writes. “Expanding the stage to allow for a full orchestra or Broadway production means expanding into 2nd St. According to initial designs, the street would become a two-lane road with no parking to allow for the expansion.”

Myron Heaton, who is leading the project, told the JS it would cost $1 million to buy the land and the building. But the entire project, including renovation and expansion of the theater could cost $40 to $60 million, as he told Urban Milwaukee.

The JS story notes that plans have not been shared with the city. But the city and the Marcus Corp. which owns the building, both indicated they were open to the discussion. Katie Falvey, director of real estate for the Marcus Corp, said the company was willing to sell the property and cooperate “if a bona fide proposal was made — if it made financial sense.”

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4 thoughts on “Back in the News: Can Old Warner Theater Be Saved?”

  1. dudeman says:

    What the hell are they talking about, ‘full orchestra or Broadway production’ ? That stage looks like the same size as Riverside and certainly looks bigger than the Rave, the Pabst or Turner Hall…Looks perfect for bands or DJs or a comedian doing a show…the place looks gorgeous, we need more competition for booking acts in town and this would be a great spot.

  2. Dan Pfeifer says:

    Other than the older gentleman who went off on a lengthy (perhaps trolly) rant, the commentors on the JSOnline story were surprisingly intelligent this time around, particularly one who questioned why we need another theater for shows in Milwaukee. Between the Marcus Amphitheater, the Marcus Center, The Riverside, the Potawatomi’s Northern Lights Theater and the Milwaukee Theatre (which was probably a mistake of an idea from the start), it does start to feel like we have a lot of places competing for the same kinds of shows, and maybe you can add a refurbished Warner/Grand to the list, too. This in a city where we’re wondering if we can hold onto our sports capital (the inability to bring in an MLS team, the threat of the Bucks leaving, the loss of the GMO and the issues surrounding racing at The Mile). Plus, at the end of the day, the only two businesses in town it seems like are actually growing are Northwestern Mutual and, for better or worse, the Potawatomi’s gaming empire. We’re adding more entertainment options but not more people or jobs to allow people to afford to go see them.

    Part of me thinks we should be doing something bigger and bolder than trying to restore a place that closed for a reason, and maybe something more substantial, inspiring and worthy of bringing in businesses that might sponsor arts & culture than just adding another theater to a list of theaters that are already scrapping hard for a limited number of shows. Don’t get me wrong — competition is competition and if the market can sustain this many venues, it will. But I really wonder if the market can sustain this many venues.

    Part of me wishes we had thought all of this out a little more as a city. The Amphitheater could use some help; peeling paint, old screens and poor acoustics make it a fairly substandard concert venue. The Riverside is OK, but it feels a little bombed out sometimes. The Marcus Center is perfect for the purpose it serves, but I feel like that purpose is a little limited to the more artsy, upscale shows. And there’s still something kind of scuzzy and not family friendly about going to see a show at a casino, at least to me.

    All in all, this starts to seem like another Milwaukee restoration project that will give us another mediocre venue for more mediocre acts to come to town. It doesn’t seem very bold or visionary. I feel like it’s time for us to break out of our history a bit to liven up downtown. We could use something a little more bold & daring, like an interactive arts center consisting of publicly available dance studios and music practice spaces along with a relocated Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, or maybe a combination arts/retail center with green space and a modern sculpture garden. Either would very much liven up downtown and bring in more people on a more consistent basis than the occasional concert or show. That might then inspire, and produce, the ability to revitalize some of the other already existing venues.

    Instead, we get another renovation, another theater and kind of more of the same on top of more of the same. Meh. More sleepy, boring Milwaukee.

  3. J says:

    I think the issue is that it’s not deep enough. I would love to restore the theater eventually but they need to get that price tag under $15 million. Sixty million can be put to much better use in Milwaukee and this isn’t it, despite the beauty and nostalgia it all entails. For that kind of money they can buy up a few pieces of vacant land near or in downtown and build 5 or more thousand plus seat venues and be profitable almost from the get go with the amount of talent in this region.

    This ain’t NYC or SF we need to make sure whatever we are spending affects the community in many more positive ways than having another pretty place to see bands and movies. With the current state of 2/3rds of our city it’s not worth it but, then again, this isn’t being done with those 2/3rds of our city’s people in mind in the first place. The double edge sword of Gentrification would like to continue cutting Milwaukee deep. We need hand shakes not swords.

  4. Donna Horowitz Richards says:

    Bruce, you should be very proud that your blog is helping build support for this. What a delight. I went on my second date with my now husband there, to see Bridge on the River Kwai, 50 years ago. Walking into the place was a thrill then, and can be again, maybe in our lifetimes!

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