Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Who Wants To Market The Streetcar?

City hiring outside vendor to brand and promote "The Hop."

By - Nov 20th, 2017 09:34 am
A rendering of a Brookville streetcar in Milwaukee's Third Ward. Milwaukee's streetcars will be manufactured by U.S.-based Brookville Equipment Corp.

A rendering of a Brookville streetcar in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. Milwaukee’s streetcars will be manufactured by U.S.-based Brookville Equipment Corp.

The city is looking to hire someone to market the streetcar. The system, to be known as The Hop presented by Potawatomi Hotel & Casino, will rely on the third-party vendor to lead the branding and promotion of the system, as well as the development of additional sponsorship opportunities.

A request for proposals will be posted on the city’s website this week. Responses are due by December 22nd, with a contract award coming in January. The first phase of the system is scheduled to begin operating in late 2018.

A memo from Department of Public Works Commissioner Ghassan Korban says the scope of services includes “development and implementation of an overall marketing and communications plan; outreach materials and advertisement development; brand activation; creation and management of a system website and social media platforms; public relations coordination; market research; service education and awareness campaign; sponsorship and advertising revenue assistance; streetcar promotional events, including opening day event coordination and promotion; coordination with third-party stakeholder organizations; and management of stakeholder databases.”

Included under “sponsorship and advertising revenue assistance” is the potential for station naming rights deals. Will BMO Harris pay to brand the station at Broadway and E. Wells St. that will open just across the street from their new 25-story tower? Would MSOE pay to brand the marquee station planned for E. Kilbourn Ave., just in front of their campus?

The contract will run for three years, with two one-year extensions.

The practice of outsourcing project marketing is consistent with other streetcar functions. Construction of the system is being led by Kiewet, a fixed-rail construction specialist. Operation and maintenance of the system will be led by Transdev, which operates a number of transit systems across the world.

To-date the city has relied on a team of sub-contractors to market the project, as reported by my colleague Bruce Murphy in a 2015 column.

The streetcar is scheduled to begin operation in Fall 2018. An extension to the lakefront is schedule to begin in late 2019. The $128 million starter system is being funded in part by $68 million in federal grants. A 12-year, $10 million sponsorship commitment from Potwatomi Hotel & Casino was announced in recent weeks, which coupled with a federal operating grant, will keep the project from having a direct impact on the city budget until at least 2021.

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here.

More about the Milwaukee Streetcar

For more project details, including the project timeline, financing, route and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.

Read more about Milwaukee Streetcar here

21 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Who Wants To Market The Streetcar?”

  1. Scott Winklebleck says:

    I cannot find the RFP anywhere on the DPW site. Could you please link directly to it

  2. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Scott – To my knowledge, it has not been posted yet. You should contact the Department of Public Works for the posting time.

  3. Rich says:

    Be interesting to see how they structure the deal. Clearly, the branding, marketing, and sealing of any additional sponsorship deals will be key to the overall project’s success (and a precursor to future expansions). So we (the city, all residents) don’t need “just another ad firm” making a pretty website and shelter posters here…the goal must be the engagement. Of course, if / when properly measured, said winning firm should benefit reasonably from their work.

  4. Jeramey is correct. The RFP is expected to be posted tomorrow (Tuesday) to the DPW website,

  5. Petedoppler says:

    Why does something soooooo popular have to be ‘marketed’? What do people not grasp about the glory of the Trolley? Won’t folks be lined up just for the ‘free’ ride? Cause as Gwen Moore explained, it’s like a gift card from the Federal Government. There is no cost at all to taxpayers. None. Zero. Just like Miller Park didn’t go one nickel above the
    estimated taxpaper Selig Slush fund susidy. And I hope those marketing whizzes (whizi?) knock down this heresey, which based on (the nerve!) facts!

  6. blurondo says:

    Illinois marketed their tollway.

  7. Paul Trotter says:

    Pete – marketing I suspect involves more than just saying how wonderful it will be to ride worry free around downtown and elsewhere. Can’t wait to ride it and see it expand to other destinations.

  8. Al Lindro says:

    Petedoppler: Thanks for posting the link to the WSJ article; couldn’t read beyond the lead without subscribing, but the rest of the article is pretty easy to imagine. Opinion: the time for “marketing” this thing was before the decision was made to build it. The marketing would/should have attempted to garner public support based on a rational presentation of its potential benefits to the area. And, dare I say, we should have had a referendum following such a marketing effort. We all know that would have been the end of it, as in “a quiet death”. As it stands now, IMO, this endeavor has a steep uphill battle to be embraced.

    Today I chatted with a Downtown Ambassador on the street. We both live a stone’s throw from the tracks. That public contact person said ALL the feedback picked up from people out and about on the sidewalks (and presumably from that person’s apartment building friends) was on the negative side. Even if that is an exaggeration, the point is clearly made that this is not welcomed by many in our situation. In all the time I’ve walked the area with my dog and had random conversations, plus through conversations with numerous owners in my condo building, I have heard exactly one favorable comment about the project.

    Rich says (above): “Clearly, the branding, marketing, and sealing of any additional sponsorship deals will be key to the overall project’s success.” As a business person now retired from co-owning a business services enterprise, Rich’s statement reveals naiveté, at best. His word “clearly” should be changed to “I hope against hope…”. For in my experience, lipsticking a pig virtually always fails even to substantially change perceptions, much less in transforming an otherwise poor idea into into a success by any measure.

    And to Gwen Moore I would say, “Explain to my relatives in Nebraska and Indiana, and my friends in places like Iowa, Georgia, Florida, Colorado, Washington State, Michigan, and elsewhere (such as small-town Wisconsin) if they mind contributing money via taxes toward the purchase of a “gift card” to a trinket store via Washington DC.

  9. Paul Trotter says:

    Al- people hate change especially when it involves construction that disrupts their daily routines in driving. I’ve talked to several people and basically they parrot back what they’ve heard on talk radio – especially Mark Belling who went on a hissy fit rant because a crew accidentally hit a communication cable. Oh my God – the horror of it all! My response to anyone who attacks this project in its initial stages is to say, “I sincerely hope it succeeds and with major developers requesting that the route go near and through their developments with the planned expansions I suspect it will.” Have a good day.

  10. TransitRider says:

    Al Lindro, a referendum wouldn’t have resolved anything. Cincinnati had a streetcar referendum in 2009. The streetcar won, but streetcar opponents didn’t consider the matter settled—they instead demanded (and got) a 2nd referendum 2 years later. The streetcar won that time, too. Cincinnati’s downtown streetcar opened last year.

    I’m not surprised that people “out and about” don’t understand the streetcar. Many people still believe the streetcar is just a futuristic-looking bus on rails (or even worse, a “trolley”—one of those ugly, uncomfortable rubber-tire buses that Milwaukee has had downtown for years). Streetcar/light rail opponents often change their tune after trains start running. Take Phoenix, for example:

    Among the many detractors — and they were multitudinous — who thought a light rail line in this sprawling city would be a riderless $1 billion failure was Starlee Rhoades, the spokeswoman for the Goldwater Institute, a vocal critic of the rail’s expense. “I’ve taken it,” Ms. Rhoades said, slightly sheepishly. “It’s useful.”

    She and her colleagues still think the rail is oversubsidized, but in terms of predictions of failure, she said, “We don’t dwell.”

  11. TransitRider says:

    Petedoppler, you were being sarcastic when you said “folks [will] be lined up … for the ‘free’ ride”, but that’s actually a possibility given Kansas City’s streetcar experience.

    Last year Kansas City opened a 2-mile downtown streetcar, very similar to Milwaukee’s. But while Milwaukee’s streetcar will be free for 12 months (thanks, Potawatamie!), KC’s is free forever through taxes paid only by those directly benefiting from the streetcar.

    KC did this by creating a special streetcar district (limited to parcels within about 1800 feet of the tracks) and raising sales and property taxes only within that district. The added taxes, which were approved by referendum, more than fund the streetcar operations and debt service. Tax revenues from this district are actually running far ahead of projections because the streetcar has triggered an economic boom in that area.

  12. Tim says:

    TransitRider, thank you for adding that. I would also like to add that the state of WI & Scott Walker recently signed a new law that specifically outlaws using TIF districts to fund streetcar operations, such as the successful Kansas City streetcar mentioned above.

    Why would they do that if we’re seeing such success?

  13. Paul Trotter says:

    Tim – because they hate Milwaukee and because they can. It’s all about shoving their powers into our faces.

  14. Ben says:

    EZ Advert.

    It’s free….come ride the train to nowhere.

    Parking isn’t free and you can’t park by the trolley anymore….All those spots were removed.

  15. TransitRider says:

    Ben, the streetcar marketing isn’t just aimed at passengers; it’s also aimed at drivers who (like you) wrongly think all the on-street parking is being removed.

  16. Paul Trotter says:

    Ben-to nowwhere? Do you consider every business along the rout a “nowhere” destination. Are the streetcar destinations requested by major developers “nowhere” ? Good God Ben-get off the right wing radio sauce. Especially anti Milwaukee yelling Belling.

  17. Al Lindro says:

    This thread began with a question about why the streetcar needs to be “marketed” via some communication campaign. Anyone who lives or transports themselves anywhere around the downtown area is more than aware of the streetcar. It’s hard to imagine anything LESS in need of “marketing” at this point. Marketing is about (1) creating awareness and (2) about making the case for why one should become “invested” in something as a user, buyer, client, prospect, etc. I think we’re all smart enough to gauge that once it is up and running. And (3), to overcome resistance and skepticism from voices that were given short shrift when it mattered … and then it were ignored. Good luck with changing those points of view.

    Most of my adult years have been split between living in two urban areas: Chicago and Milwaukee. Night and day difference re: what public transportation is essential in these scenarios, and what “makes sense” in both cases. In two decades living in Milwaukee’s downtown, there’s never been a time when I thought: “this would be better if we had a streetcar”, whereas in Chicago when trying to get around and to park conveniently and cheaply, one cannot fathom how much MORE atrocious that daunting and teeming metro area would be without busses and rail.

    And for those who say that people resent disruption across the board, it’s not true. People are reasonable about that. If they weren’t we wouldn’t see so many people remodeling their homes and condos. Now THAT’s disruption, but has a payoff for those affected so they do it gladly. The resentment comes from people whose patterns and situations are being disrupted to accommodate something being foisted on them for which they don’t see a need, and do not see how it’s an improvement.

    This IS “to nowhere”, as suggested above. In its tight little circle among downtown neighborhoods, with ridership from those who have plenty of choices already, people go “nowhere” that they cannot reach quickly and easily now whether by car, walking, Uber on occasion, or even by bicycle. It’s just going to be a small and silly novelty, a product of nonsensical political scrimmaging.

    Go ahead and market this foolishness; it will make no difference in the outcome. And it won’t be the first or last time our city fathers jam dollars into a rathole.

  18. TransitRider says:

    “Marketing” isn’t just product awareness and convincing people to use something. It also explains HOW to use it—HOW to board (unlike a bus, the back door is fine), HOW to pay a fare (curbside vending machines?), etc.

    “Marketing” includes outreach to drivers who, at some intersections, will encounter separate traffic signals for cars and streetcars and who must be towed if they park too far from the curb along the route.

    “Marketing” also includes maintaining route maps and Uber-like smartphone apps telling how long you’ll wait for the next streetcar.

    Speaking of which, Uber cannot replace the streetcar because its per-ride cost is much higher and will become even worse once they finish burning through their cash (next year??) and are forced to raise prices. Uber lost $2.8 billion in 2016 and another $1.1 billion in just the first three months of 2017!

    But back to the streetcar, while things are simple at first (no fare and only 1 route), by early 2019 there will be fares on two intertwined routes. There will then be marketing opportunities through hotels (like streetcar passes included in room packages) and private parking lots.

    The initial streetcar route is 2 miles end-to-end (4 miles roundtrip). That is far beyond “walking distance” (typically less than a half mile for most people), especially if you have luggage, groceries, or use a cane.

    Finally, while people think they understand the streetcar, they often don’t. For example, you said the streetcar will run in a “tight little circle”, but the circular route idea was dropped nearly 10 years ago. This shows how little many otherwise well-informed downtown residents actually understand the streetcar today and exactly why marketing is needed,

  19. Paul Trotter says:

    Mr. Al Lindro:
    On the surface, you present a persuasive argument, yet if we dig a little deeper there are flaws. You continue to call it the streetcar to “nowhere”. Since you forgot or perhaps conveniently avoided addressing my second response to you I will give you further evidence that this is not the streetcar to “nowhere”. Look at the first two links and summaries I provided. Granted, these are future destinations but provide evidence of how the streetcar is desired by developers to have it incorporated into their designs. Why would they want that Al? I am mystified. You can also review the link about great destinations on the streetcar route here: or get a summary below. Regarding the present streetcar route one only has to look at the last example link and summary found below. On a more personal note – may I suggest you get a cup of coffee at the Starbucks on Ogden – walk over to Ogden and look east and west and north if you travel a wee bit west. You will see thousands of new apartments and condo developments that are already constructed or in the process of being built. Now tell me something Al – would it be easier to take a car to the third ward or the streetcar passing your apartment? Would it be easier to take a streetcar to the intermodal station ( a destination currently in place ) or a car. Keep in mind that the streetcar will have priority at intersections so no stopping. Imagine taking out your MCTS tracker app and knowing exactly when that streetcar is going to pass your apartment or coffee shop or bar? Tell me something – do you enjoy sitting at an intersection that takes 2-3 minutes of your precious time to change so you can get off your phone ( smart phone intersection lag – a new phenomenon ) and proceed through the intersection. Intersections in suburbs often take 7 minutes to change. Reflect on that. In addition I see you’re comparing Chicago with Milwaukee. These of course are very different metropolitan areas. Chicago and its outlying suburbs use heavy rail to transport people at least 25-50 miles in every direction including Sturtevant WI which BTW is a drop off point for hundreds of IL residents who work at the Amazon facility in WI. Wouldn’t it be nice if inner city residents had the same option. Unfortunately Walker and Voss eliminated that option in 2012. Sadly, people in Milwaukee still don’t come out in droves and vote this terrible Governor out of office. He’s a very talented divide and conquer campaigner but a terrible governor. But that’s beside the point. Milwaukee’s goal is not to transport people via heavy rail to lets say to Peewaukee ( God Forbid ) but ya never know Al – the possibilities are endless. Pray tell Al – regional cooperation could be on the horizon- Good God ! Don’t you want choices Al?

    “The 44-floor The Couture is expected to cost $122 million to complete.  With 302 apartments planned for its upper floors, the building will have a number of other uses incorporated into the lower levels. A substantial commercial component, including restaurant and retail space, will be accessible via a public concourse on the lowest floors. Plans for a hotel, originally included when the project was first announced in 2012, were dropped as the tower went through final design. An approximately 800-car parking garage will be built at the base of the building.”

    Plans from the hotel division of Milwaukee-based Marcus Corp. (NYSE: MCS) include a 276-room expansion of the Hilton Milwaukee City Center, 509 W. Wisconsin Ave., an additional 61,500 square feet of new meeting and exhibit space, a hub for the new downtown streetcar, retail, food and beverage outlets, and a 200-unit high-rise apartment tower. The Marcus proposal, which had been one of two proposals submitted for the site, is being called “eMbarKE.”
    Marcus spokespersons say the total cost of the “eMbarKE” private development project is $125 million. Additionally, the Hilton expansion would be 11 stories tall, and the 200-unit apartment tower would be 16 stories tall under this new proposal, said Katie Falvey, vice president of real estate at Marcus Corp.”

    21 Amazing Wedding Venues on the Milwaukee Streetcar Route

    Check out the amazing venues located within walking distance of the Milwaukee Streetcar! Photo at future Streetcar stop Broadway and Michigan by Front Room Photography
    The Milwaukee Streetcar (branded as The Hop) is scheduled to open in later 2018 and we couldn’t be more excited! We know our couples love showcasing their #MKELove and what better way to do it than including the Streetcar as an additional transportation option for your guests.
    For this article, we identified wedding and event venues located within ~2 blocks of the confirmed Milwaukee Streetcar route. We went with a ~2 block radius, because let’s face it, walking more than 2 blocks in heels and dress shoes isn’t for everyone!
    Read on for the amazing venues within 2 block walking distance a Milwaukee Streetcar Line stop:
    “The route was identified to serve the greatest numbers of riders along a route that also provides significant opportunities for economic development.  It was designed to complement existing bus routes, especially the major bus corridor along Wisconsin Avenue.   It connects the Intermodal Station and its 1.4 million annual users; the Third Ward (the fastest-growing neighborhood in City); East Town (with the largest concentration of jobs in the state); and the lower east side (the highest-density residential neighborhood in state).  The initial route and extensions would be within a quarter-mile* of the following destinations:

    100% hotels
    90% occupied office
    90% occupied retail
    77% of parking
    77% of housing
    90% of major downtown attractions
    100% of downtown’s 20 largest employers

    *¼ mile (3-4 blocks) is a general guideline used by transit planners nationwide for what people are willing to walk to access transit.  This was also confirmed through a user survey conducted along the Milwaukee Streetcar route in the fall of 2010, which indicated people in Milwaukee were willing to walk about 4 blocks for transit or goods and services.”
    – [ ]

  20. Al Lindro says:

    I live close by the Starbucks you mention, and have for 20+ years as the area has bounded and erupted back to life due to far sighted developers and investors, and because of shifting demographics and life-style preferences. None of this has a thing to do with the advent of “streetcar fever”. Some percentage of those (pretty well-off) citizens who enjoy the vibe and convenience of the area and the user-friendly ease of getting around Milwaukee will undoubtedly become streetcar users. How many? I’m not feeling it will be a groundswell, base on conversations i’ve had with real people. Time will tell, but my sense is that most of them just kind of roll their eyes.

    Is it worth $120+million even before the subsidized operating expenses? Not a chance, and we are going to Washington for a big chunk of that. Which really means getting a buck or so from most households in the country, Thank goodness they have no idea where their tax money is being sprinkled around to benefit people like us (pretty comfortable and privileged even if over-taxed) in one small and booming downtown in a city that’s already easy to get around in.

    And now we want to spend on marketing? Good grief.

  21. TransitRider says:

    Streetcar opponents claim that only a boondoggle would need marketing. But everything needs marketing, even Trump’s “tax cut” law (and even after it was passed and signed into law).

    Americans for Prosperity, a far-right political group funded by the Koch brothers, is spending $20 million to market the existing tax law that supposedly gives everybody money. Either the new tax law is a boondoggle or everything needs marketing.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us