Graham Kilmer

City Panel Okays Big Westown Upgrades

Re-doing Grand Theatre for MSO, new Bon Ton contract, major street upgrades.

By - Feb 1st, 2017 11:57 am
Rendering of renovated Grand Warner Theatre.

Rendering of renovated Grand Warner Theatre.

Westown and Wisconsin Ave. may see a number of public and private infrastructure projects including redevelopment and expansion of the historic Grand Theatre and several major street projects.

On Tuesday, the Common Council committee on Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development adopted a new amendment to Tax Incremental District (TID) 37 increasing expenditures in the district by about $7.8 million, contingent on adoption by the full council.

Historic Grand Theatre and Milwaukee Symphony

As the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra continues to pursue a home in the old Grand Warner Theatre, a proposal for redevelopment has come before the board requesting a $750,000 Facade Grant from the TID expenditure to move a wall, with frontage on N. 2nd St., 30 feet east into the street. Traffic would be narrowed to two lanes to accommodate the change.

This wall will be moved 30 feet into N. 2nd St. Photo by Brian Jacobson.

This wall will be moved 30 feet into N. 2nd St. Photo by Brian Jacobson.

For the Grand to be the orchestra’s home music hall, the wall must be moved. With a current stage depth of 15 feet, the orchestra wouldn’t fit in the theater as it sits.

Options to purchase the theater and the land beneath it have been secured by WAM DC, the non-profit economic development group working to revive Wisconsin Ave. The building on the corner of N. 2nd St. and W. Wisconsin Ave., which currently houses a sushi restaurant, has also been purchased and will be developed as an addition to the theater.

The road reconstruction and facade easement would be part of a larger development of the 1,750 theater, financed in part by federal and state historic tax credits that ensure historic building standards are met.

“This is a symbiotic relationship between the theater and the orchestra,” said Mark Niehaus, president and executive director of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Neihaus said the development would create a 21st century experience in a building with a 1930’s aesthetic. He also emphasized the building’s history as a 1930’s movie theater and depression-era escape for working class families.

“It was built from the ethos, by the architects Rapp and Rapp, of being a house for the common man,” he said.

With orchestra tickets being on average markedly cheaper than other forms of live entertainment, like sporting events, Neihaus said he wants the theater to be a place for “anyone.”

The reasons for the symphony’s proposed move from the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts were previously reported by Urban Milwaukee. With its own hall, the orchestra would have its pick of the best dates for concerts and increase its earned revenue. The new hall could also better accommodate the MSO’s youth program, Arts in Community Education, which buses 40,000 students to the orchestra every year.

“The easiest part of our business to expand is gonna be the education program,” Neihaus said.

The new building will also be open to other organizations when the orchestra isn’t using it. The Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra would use the building, and Neihaus said the orchestra is talking to Gary Witt, CEO of the Pabst Theater Group, about his organization also booking concerts in the space.

The Grand (Warner) Theatre

Bon-Ton Funding Keeps Company Downtown Till 2028

Should the TID amendment be approved by the common council, Bon Ton, the department store chain which owns Boston Store and is the largest employer in Westown, will receive a $1.9 million forgivable loan to maintain their headquarters on Wisconsin Ave. for the next 10 years, according to Dan Casanova, a senior economic development specialist for the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee.

The loan will go towards remodeling and tenant improvement in the building on 4th and Wisconsin that includes Boston Store and office space used by Bon Ton for its headquarters. One-tenth of the loan will be forgiven each year during the 10-year-term as long as the company maintains their promise of 750 full time employees at their Milwaukee headquarters.

As a project receiving over $1 million in public funding, it will be subject to the workforce requirements of the Resident Preference Program.

$4.365 Million Street Improvements Included

TID 37 Projects Map.

TID 37 Projects Map.

Major reconstruction and paving projects are also in the line-up for the downtown neighborhood if the TID amendment passes the Common Council.

The largest project is a $2.5 million reconstruction of N. 2nd St. between W. Wisconsin and N. Plankinton avenues associated with the Grand Theatre development.

Other reconstruction efforts in the amendment include a $560,000 project on Wells St. between 6th St. and Broadway downtown, and a $500,000 reconstruction of Plankinton Ave. from St. Paul to the Menomonee River.

Also on the books are four high-impact repaving projects. These include: $255,000 on Wisconsin Ave. from the Milwaukee River to 10th St., $250,00 on Kilbourn Ave. from Plankinton to 6th Street, $200,000 for 2nd St. from Clybourn to Kilbourn and $100,000 on 4th St. from Wells to Kilbourn.

All told, the changes are more evidence of a revival in the long-moribund west side of Downtown.

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Categories: Real Estate

5 thoughts on “City Panel Okays Big Westown Upgrades”

  1. MKE0 says:

    Can someone please ask the City of Milwaukee whit it continues to give money to Bon-Ton – a company that makes no money and has a good chance of going bankrupt in the next 2 years? In effect, this is a handout to the private investors of Bon-Ton and the developers of Grand Avenue for a few hundred jobs that are unlikely to exist in a few years.

  2. Because the last thing the city needs is another empty building on Wisconsin Ave…and 650 of those jobs are fairly well paying corporate office jobs that would be hard to replace. The city is giving them a pittance compared to several recent suburbs giving millions more for factories provided fewer than 200 jobs.

  3. David says:

    Does anyone know how the proposed BRT fits with the city’s plans for Wisconsin Ave? It seems to me that the County is movingly ahead with plans and the city is not on board.

  4. Rennie Leon says:

    The grand Ave doesn’t own thw Boston store building its own by Wispark and the city is onboard with the brt. Why don’t people research things before they write comments?

  5. Although the owners of the Grand Avenue don’t own the building that the Boston Store occupies (Wispark does), maintaining the presence of the Boston Store and the Bon Ton corporate offices is an important asset to any revitalization of the Grand Ave. A large empty store and the loss of 750 potential customers for the mall would a big set back to their plans.

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