Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

City Okays Convention Center Expansion

Cost of $300 to $375 million. Murphy questions whether it will fill more hotel rooms.

By - Feb 11th, 2020 05:20 pm
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New convention center. Rendering by Populous.

Conceptual rendering of Wisconsin Center expansion. Rendering by Populous.

The Wisconsin Center District secured the necessary city approval Tuesday to advance its plan to expand the city’s convention center.

Using bonding to finance the expansion, the district hopes to start construction in 2021 with a grand opening in 2023.

The Common Council’s Public Works Committee vetted the proposal two weeks ago and the full council approved the plan Tuesday. The city, under state law, is required to certify the plans.

The plan, which is now undergoing final design and construction estimating work, would cost between $300 and $375 million. “We are not committing to anything at this point,” said district CEO Marty Brooks during the committee meeting. The expansion would add 215,000 square feet of exhibit and meeting space to the convention center, bringing the facility to 481,000 square feet and nearly doubling the total.

“My understanding is you were already so leveraged you had to borrow double to get the bucks you needed,” said Alderman Nik Kovac. The state-controlled entity owns the Wisconsin Center, Miller High Life Theatre, UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena and Fiserv Forum.

Brooks and John Mehan of Robert W. Baird & Co. said that wasn’t the case. The district now has approximately $3 million in unrestricted revenue annually from a $1 million lease payment from the Milwaukee Bucks and $2 per ticket fee at Fiserv Forum.

It could also raise the 2.5 percent county-wide hotel room tax to 3 percent. In addition, it collects a 7 percent City of Milwaukee hotel tax, 0.5 percent food and beverage tax and 3 percent rental car tax. But “the only flexibility to raise any of those taxes is the county room tax,” said Brooks.

The district announced tvsdesign and Eppstein Uhen Architects as the project architecture team in December. A partnership of Gilbane Building Co. and CD Smith was hired in January to lead the construction. A final cost estimate is expected in April.

In 2019 the state approved a moral obligation to pay the remaining project debt should the district default.

Ald. Michael Murphy expressed skepticism about the proposal when it came before the Public Works Committee. “The concern that I have is that every one of the expansions centers for the most part has never lived up to what they were promised in terms of hotel rooms per night,” said Murphy. “I’ve been through a number of times, there is usually the same cast of characters that want the expansion.”

Murphy said he expects more subsidies or taxes to be required. “We’re going to need a signature hotel, usually they come back later and ask for a public subsidy on that.”

The committee approved the proposal on a four-to-one vote with Murphy in objection.

Brooks and others gathered in the back of the council chambers Tuesday morning, but there wasn’t any drama to watch. The meeting did start more than 20 minutes late, but the council passed the authorization without discussion. Only Murphy voted against the proposal.

The state Secretary of Revenue and Secretary of Administration still need to sign off on the plan, said Mehan.

Conceptual Renderings

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Related Legislation: File 191565

More about the Wisconsin Center expansion

One thought on “Eyes on Milwaukee: City Okays Convention Center Expansion”

  1. Barbara Richards says:

    The question is why are we spending more money downtown!!!! I went to several DNC summits and etc.

    All they talk is more conventions. Are people going to walk here… from how far away.. They are all going to fly in, right? in their autonomous flying machines? Have you listened to Pope Francis, Greta Thunberg? Have you read the WICCI report , or IPCC or NCA?

    We want to build our MKE port to export the left overs from Ethanol production to satisfy CAFO’s all over the world when we need to stop ethanol production.

    Are you all really going to speed up and speed up. This is the upper middle class version of passing on the right at an intersection!!! How dangerous does it have to get? Are we just going to smash into the climate change wall at full speed? I would hope we might be cognizant beings: Homo sapiens sapiens: “Homo sapiens, (Latin: “wise man”) the species to which all modern human beings belong. Homo sapiens is one of several species grouped into the genus Homo, but it is the only one that is not extinct.” from Encyclopedia Britianica. May I add “yet?”

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