Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Committee Okays $3 Million for Symphony

City will help MSO move old theater's wall and rebuild street for new music hall.

By - Jul 23rd, 2019 12:19 pm
The braced wall at the Grand Warner Theatre. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The braced wall at the Grand Warner Theatre. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee approved a $3 million funding increase to support the relocation of the rear theater wall at the Grand Warner Theatre and the rebuilding of N. 2nd St.

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is planning to relocate the wall in mid-August to accommodate the conversion of the former movie theater to a music hall. To create a larger stage the wall will be slowly moved eastward 35 feet, as one piece, into N. 2nd St.

The funds would come from an amendment to a tax incremental financing district that supported the late 1990s redevelopment of the Shops of Grand Avenue mall. That district is generating surplus revenue and will close in 2021 after the amendment.

The funding increase is needed, said Department of City Development (DCD) economic development specialist Dan Casanova, because things underground were not as they seemed.

The city had already awarded the project a $750,000 facade grant for the wall move and anticipated spending $2.5 million on public infrastructure. “Those were early estimates based on the information we knew, but we have since discovered a lot of additional challenges,” said Casanova at a Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee meeting held last week. The additional $3 million will bring the project’s total cost for the city to $6.25 million.

A substantial amount of excavation has been done at the site. “In doing that they’ve discovered a lot of things that were not on anyone’s utility map,” said Casanova. He said other things were in different locations than expected. This includes electrical lines, gas lines, steam tunnels and other conduits. “All those utilities had to be relocated into a much narrower space,” said Casanova.

Fifty percent of the spending increase is due to infrastructure associated with We Energies that was not where it was expected, including a steam tunnel, said Casanova.

“I don’t know why we apologize for We Energies again costing the taxpayers of Milwaukee millions of dollars,” complained Alderman Robert Bauman. The city will pay for new utility infrastructure for We Energies at no cost to the utility.

“Still it’s actually cheaper than building a new symphony hall,” said MSO president Mark Niehaus. He said the location choice has created a virtuous cycle of investment in the area.

Bauman moved to approve the project after venting about We Energies, the utility which he has repeatedly fought after it intervened in the streetcar project. The committee unanimously approved the proposal, which must now be approved by the full council.

Moving the wall as one piece, which will cost over $1 million for a national specialist to relocate, will help assure the $89 million project gets a combined $16 million in federal and state historic preservation tax credits. The National Parks Service determines eligibility for the credits.

Fewer challenges have been encountered inside the building. “On the interior things are going pretty much as expected,” said Casanova. The seats have all been removed and the floor is being adjusted to make it handicapped accessible.

The symphony hopes to open the hall in fall 2020.

The city will rebuild N. 2nd St. as a one-way southbound street. It has hired Benesch, TKWA UrbanLab and SmithGroup to redesign the street into a pedestrian-friendly corridor from W. Wells St. at Postman’s Porch to W. Clybourn St.

TKWA UrbanLab is leading the redesign of the former Grand Ave Mall that straddles N. 2nd St.


Expansion Plans

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Related Legislation: File 190545

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