Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Return of The State Theater

City committee advances group's plan to buy theater building on State St. by end of 2018.

By - Nov 21st, 2018 04:33 pm
State Theater. Rendering by Quorum Architects.

State Theater. Rendering by Quorum Architects.

The State Theater, located at 2600 W. State St. in the city’s Avenues West neighborhood, could be back in private hands before the end of the year, a major step in its redevelopment.

The approximately 10,000-square-foot theater burned in a 2017 fire after sitting vacant for years. The city had acquired the dormant building in 2013 through property tax foreclosure.

Many assumed the severe fire damage would lead to the theater’s demolition. But a group of area stakeholders and music organizations think the theater can be redeveloped.

The group, led by Janice Vogt and developer John Hennessy, plans to purchase the 10,700-square-foot theater building and vacant parcels from the city.

The $3.5 million project would also include the creation of a professional sound engineering studio for Mammoth Audio and classroom space for music education. Vogt’s non-profit, Freespace, would provide music training within the building.

A land sale and associated rezoning secured unanimous approval from the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee Tuesday morning.

“This is a very positive project for a building that has been vacant for almost 25 years,” said Department of City Development planning manager Vanessa Koster.

“I think this is the last gasp of putting this building back on the map. I, like many others, thought it was probably going to come down,” said development group member Andrew Parker at a recent City Plan Commission hearing regarding a zoning change for the project.

The 1,000-seat theater would be redeveloped as an all ages, sober, 400-seat space and two adjoining parcels would be used as a parking lot and pocket park. All told, the three parcels form a 26,000-square-foot development site.

The city’s coffers won’t be immediately filled by the sale. The three properties, two of which were donated to the city, will be sold for $2,000. The city will also provide a $50,000 brownfield cleanup grant.

Long term the outlook is better for the city’s bottom line. The redeveloped complex is required to pay property taxes as part of the sale agreement.

Built in 1915, it’s been used as a movie theater, dance hall, music club (The Electric Ballroom and later The Palms) and strip club (Hoops). When it was a music club, a number of major acts performed there before hitting it big, including U2AC/DCElvis Costello and The Police.

When it opened, the State Theater was one of 10 Warner movie theaters in the city, along with The Downer and the Grand Warner Theatre. The latter is also being redeveloped, as part of an $89 million project to transform the downtown theater into a state-of-the-art music hall for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

Vogt said the group is currently on track to open the new theater in late 2020. If the project is not completed by January 2024, the city would have the option to take back the properties.

Joining Vogt, Hennessy and Parker on the project are architect Allyson Nemec, rapper WebsterX,  Charles Forsberg of Mammyth Audio, Barbara Tracey of St. Michael’s Parish, Uni-Fi Records head Dima Pochtarev, radio personality Promise Bruce and Four Corners Fair Trade owner Clara Tracey. Nemec’s firm Quorum Architects is leading the design of the project, which includes a detailed application for historic preservation tax credits.

Photos and Rendering

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Related Legislation: File: 181129

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