Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Group Fundraising For ‘New’ State Theater

$4.5 million effort for all-ages music venue in theater that once hosted AC/DC, U2 and The Police.

By - Jul 28th, 2020 09:11 am
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State Theater. Rendering by Quorum Architects.

State Theater. Rendering by Quorum Architects.

The State Theater has had quite the life.

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.

But for over 25 years it’s been vacant. The city acquired the property, 2600 W. State St., in 2013 through property tax foreclosure. A fire damaged the building in 2017.

Now a non-profit group, known as The New State, wants to redevelop the 1,000-seat theater into an all-ages, sober, 415-seat venue. Three sound studios, managed by Mammyth Audio, would be outfitted, including one for instruction, one for lease and another for Mammyth. A physical storefront would be included in the 10,700-square-foot building. A non-profit, Freespace, would lease space for seminars, workshops and classes tailored to youth musicians. A music-themed pocket park would be created next to the theater.

The group, led by Janice Vogt and developer John Hennessy, purchased the building and two adjacent properties from the city in 2018. It’s now ramping up its fundraising efforts, with a plan to complete the $4.5 million project in 2022. The effort is officially led by West Side Arts Un Limited, a 501(c)3 non-profit.

It released a new video Monday highlightings its effort.

“This video will help us share the vision for The New State with the Milwaukee Community,” said Hennessy in a statement. “It perfectly tells the story of our plan to revive this space into a community asset dedicated to helping Milwaukee’s youth turn their dreams, talents and ambitions for music and the arts into careers and life-long practices.”

The three-minute-long video features images of the current state of the theater and renderings of the plan.

The fundraising push comes with a sign of the times, everyone who pledges at least $25 will receive a The New State-branded face mask. Additional donations include even more swag, including a The Palms t-shirt. The group is also looking for volunteers.

“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 when the land sale was before the City Plan Commission in 2018.

Joining Vogt, Hennessy, and Parker on the project are musical artist WebsterX, architect Allyson NemecCharles 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.

Pochtarev and Bruce helped make the video with support from Nick Stich.

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.

Photos and Rendering

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