Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Marcus Center Starts Construction On Former Chestnut Grove

Redeveloped outdoor space for concerts would include 24 honey locust trees.

By - May 31st, 2022 11:00 am
Marcus Center redevelopment plan, 2022. Rendering by HGA.

Marcus Center redevelopment plan, 2022. Rendering by HGA.

The Marcus Performing Arts Center is moving forward on its 2018 vision of reconfiguring its campus, 929 N. Water St.

Construction will begin this week on redeveloping the outdoor space along E. Kilbourn Ave. Plans call for reconfiguring the former chestnut tree grove space into an extension of the Peck Pavilion amphitheater. The removal of the Dan Kiley-designed grove created controversy as a group of individuals sought to save it by having it historically designated. Kiley is a renowned landscape designer.

The renovation work was to start in 2019, but the multi-phase project was delayed, and then reconfigured in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic left all of the complex’s venues dark.

“Our goal now is to focus on projects with the time and resources we have,” said Marcus Center CEO Kendra Whitlock Ingram in an interview. She started in March 2020, as the pandemic took hold.

The Marcus Center took advantage of the temporary suspension of indoor events in 2020 to install new seating and accessible aisles in Uihlein Hall, the main performance venue. It also completed the removal of the tree grove, and, in 2021, hosted a handful of events on the new grass space.

Now the organization will finish the exterior space, again pausing its outdoor events.

“We made a couple of tweaks to add more greenery and green space,” said Whitlock Ingram of the 2018 plan, designed by architecture firm HGA.

The 2022 plans call for 24 honey locust trees to be planted along the border of the central lawn. A series of native plantings and gardens will also border the space. Cafe tables and chairs will be interspersed atop crushed gravel, with an emphasis, said the CEO, on accessibility.

“We kept hearing that people wanted areas to just sit and enjoy nature,” said Whitlock Ingram.

During future events, those on the lawn will have unobstructed views of the screen at the Peck Pavilion. The existing light bollards are being upgraded with new lighting to improve the space’s illumination.

The chainlink fence and jersey (concrete) barriers that lined the lawn last year won’t return according to the organization. Instead, the garden spaces lining the lawn will be configured for water retention and, by extension, serve as a barrier.

A new war memorial will be installed at the southeast corner of the complex, partially replacing the fountain. The county-owned facility currently includes a memorial in the colonnade along its southern facade.

Other space from the fountain will be purposed for event programming. Whitlock Ingram said the organization plans to resume a full slate of outdoor programming in 2023, including the Rainbow Summer music and culture series.

The complex, designed by architect Harry Weese, first opened in 1969. The building’s marble facade was replaced in 1994 and a new lobby was constructed in 1996.

2022 Renderings and Pre-Construction Photos

2018 Renderings

Marcus Center Photos

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