Third Ward Entertainment Proposal Raises Questions
But the two-theater music complex may ultimately be subject to little public review.
The Historic Third Ward Architectural Review Board met to consider the design merits of the complex.
Eppstein Uhen Architects senior project designer Troy Jacoby presented the proposal, which calls for two attached theaters with 800 seats and 4,000 seats. The two venues, split side-by-side in a three-level complex, would be configured with general admission, standing layouts and a limited number of premium seats on their outer edges.
The complex would be built atop a surface parking lot just east of N. Jackson St. and is intended to host approximately 130 shows per year.
Jacoby showed images intended to establish the historical context of the site, as an airstrip and Nike missile base. It’s also been the site of a factory, used by Charter Wire. Today, split into three parcels, it’s a surface parking lot owned by Summerfest-host Milwaukee World Festival, Inc.
“The design of our building pays homage to that industrial past, but does it in a modern way,” said Jacoby.
An entrance plaza would be constructed on the northeast corner, with a glass-clad facade with two levels of outdoor decks overlooking the festival grounds to the east. The eastern orientation is intended to reduce sound transmission to neighbors to the east. Much of the rest of the building would be clad in masonry, on which Jacoby said local artists could be commissioned to paint murals in the future.
“We just wanted to show that we are planning this future parcel for development,” said Jacoby.
MWF would reconfigure its parcels on paper to create a 1.25-acre site it would lease to Marquee Ventures, a third-party real estate firm connected to FPC. The Madison company already books events at the festival grounds in partnership with MWF. Marquee would build the indoor venue and FPC, owned in part by national concert booker Live Nation, would operate the complex.
But despite the fact that the site is currently zoned “Industrial – Mixed” and permits a theater by right, plenty of questions abound.
The first one the board dissected was how to get to the property. While what appears to be a city street runs north-south just to the east of the site, it’s technically a private road on the festival grounds that MWF leases from the City of Milwaukee’s Harbor Commission.
A recorded easement would be needed, in part to legally ensure police, fire and other emergency services can get to the landlocked parcel. But it would also serve to define what is the legal front of the parcel and building, which would govern its zoning compliance for things like glazing and egress.
“The Harbor Commission is very interested in the public reaction to this,” said San Felippo. “We don’t have any reason to believe it would be negative.” He said the commission has already encouraged MWF to bring more people to the grounds and would require a public meeting for neighbors to weigh in.
Board chair and area alderman Robert Bauman suggested that the only way a public review before elected officials would occur is if the zoning for the site was changed. “Right now, it’s not on a track to have any hearings before elected public officials,” said the alderman.
Bauman said he had anticipated many of those questions. “Arguably it could help [the crime] problem, not make it worse,” he said of having more eyes on the street.
The building would be less than 60 feet tall said Jacoby.
But developer Peter Renner raised a number of questions about its compliance with the Summerfest/MWF lease. He claimed the organization is in violation of its lease, which San Felippo refuted.
But San Felippo also noted that issues would need to be resolved given that the lease has less than a decade left.
The board held the item, taking no formal action in anticipation of future review.
“Everybody stay tuned,” said Bauman.