Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

FPC Files For Design Approval For Deer District Concert Complex

But opposition emerges and the Wisconsin Center District raises concern.

By - Aug 25th, 2022 08:27 pm
FPC Live Deer District concert venue. Rendering by Eppstein Uhen Architects.

FPC Live Deer District concert venue. Rendering by Eppstein Uhen Architects.

The proposal to develop two concert venues adjacent to Fiserv Forum is moving forward, despite a new opposition campaign and a warning from a nearby venue that is expected to negatively impact concert bookers.

FPC Live submitted a request Thursday to the Department of City Development for the necessary design approvals to develop its two-venue complex on land once occupied by the Bradley Center. Focused on live music acts with primarily standing crowds, the complex would have halls with capacities of 800 and 4,000 people.

“Our proposal will draw more shows from top-tier talent, adding more entertainment options to residents and visitors alike. Our venues, which will be privately financed with a $50 million investment, will help spark additional economic activity in downtown Milwaukee, give people more reasons to come Downtown and create continuing excitement in and around Deer District,” said FPC co-president Charlie Goldstone in a statement. It would include elevated seating and at least one VIP area.

The larger room would have four levels. A first floor would be primarily a standing-room only hall. The second floor would have balcony seating on three sides and a VIP area with a private outdoor balcony. A mezzanine level would be even higher, with seating but no bars or outdoor decks. At the top of the structure would be a suite level with private suite boxes overlooking the concert hall and a large outdoor deck to the north.

The smaller room would contain much less seating on the balcony level, but it would have an accessible outdoor balcony. Nothing is included on the third (“mezzanine”) level, but the fourth level of that space includes an office suite and green rooms with connected outdoor deck.

The submission is just the next step in the process that started in December with a proposal to develop the complex on land owned by Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. near Henry Maier Festival Park. Those plans received a cool reception from neighbors, with FPC publicly pivoting to the Deer District site in May. FPC is an arm of Madison-based Frank Productions, which is a subsidiary of national concert promoter Live Nation.

Designed by Eppstein Uhen Architects, the proposal has two plazas. The main plaza at the northeast corner would serve as the entrance and an extension of the arena plaza. A plaza would also be included on the building’s entire north facade in the footprint of the former W. Highland Ave. roadway.

The building will be oriented northeast towards the plaza, with future development along W. State St. expected to largely hide its south facade. A portion of the eastern facade along N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. would also be hidden in the future by what is described in plan documents as a “retail building.” A conceptual design shows a two-story building with a rooftop deck in the space. The loading docks would be located along the west side of the building and a new alley would run along that side of the building to be used for dock access and truck parking. The north facade, facing Fiserv Forum, would be largely glass.

The new building, based on an elevation submitted to the city, would rise 58 feet and still be shorter than Turner Hall across the street. Signage plans for the structure indicate it would contain space for the name of the venue (currently depicted with placeholder text of “The Venue”) and a sponsor logo.

The proposal includes loading docks for performers, but no parking for patrons. Parking is expected to be accommodated through nearby parking structures, including the structure immediately west of the Bradley Center site. The space between the structure and the proposed venue could also be developed in the future.

A “detailed planned development” zoning change is necessary to enable the project, and any other, on land the Milwaukee Bucks own around the arena. The Common Council must approve any zoning change. The new development would be fully taxable.

Live Nation, which acquired a majority of FPC-parent Frank Productions in 2018, is the country’s largest concert promoter. FPC owns or operates venues in Madison, Charleston, SC and Columbia, MO. Its Madison venues include The Sylvee, Orpheum Theater, Majestic Theatre and High Noon Saloon.

“Nearly every city in the Midwest and around the country are investing in new entertainment facilities. Milwaukee should be no different,” said Goldstone at the facility’s May announcement.

The final portion of the Bradley Center was demolished in May 2019. The Bucks were required to pay to demolish the formerly state-owned structure as part of the arena financing deal. The stadium, which was considered obsolete as NBA arenas added more amenities, opened in 1988. The team can now redevelop the 7.2-acre site.

Opposition Group Forms

While the council might be limited on state law on what it can and cannot consider for a zoning change, at least two entities are raising concerns about the potential impact of the complex.

“Live Nation is just like Walmart,” said public relations strategist Craig Peterson in a statement. “They come into a community with uncompetitive pricing, put the independents out of business, shutter neighborhood businesses and displace workers. The only difference is Walmart doesn’t charge outrageous service fees to enter their buildings. Live Nation/Ticketmaster does.”

Peterson is executive director of the group opposing the FPC Live project, called Save MKE’s Music Scene LLC. It includes the owners of The Rave and the Pabst Theater Group (PTG). Save MKE’s Music Scene also has public backing from the owners of Shank Hall and the Cactus Club, as well as the Milwaukee Turners, who lease their venue to the Pabst Theater Group.

“The Live Nation proposal is a direct threat to the future of the Turner Hall Ballroom,” said Emilio De Torre, executive director, Milwaukee Turners, Inc. “Live Nation will be directly across the street from us. They want their artists and concert tours to appear at their venues, which cuts out the independent venues like us. This threatens our viability and very existence, which relies upon revenue from live concert performances.”

Peterson was previously involved in the successful effort to block the entertainment-focused Pabst City development (with the plan later replaced by the mixed-use The Brewery District) and the effort to block the Third Ward venue.

And while PTG is contesting the Live Nation venue, it’s pursuing its own similar venue as part of the proposed Iron District. Announced in mid-May, PTG would operate a 3,500-seat venue similar to what FPC Live is promoting.

Convention Center District Raises Concerns

The owner of the Miller High Life Theatre, which is a block south of the proposed FPC venue, is also raising concern that the new venue could damage its business.

The Wisconsin Center District (WCD) announced a partnership with the Pabst Theater Group (PTG) to operate the venue earlier this year, and CEO Marty Brooks said Friday that PTG is already exceeding its minimum booking of 35 shows per year. But the FPC venue could impact that agreement.

“I believe the partnership between the Bucks and Live Nation is a show of bad faith to our organization, the city, county and state. The Live Nation venues will be in direct competition with the Miller High Life Theatre,” said Brooks in making his CEO report to the WCD board. “Any Live Nation tour will only play in the Live-Nation-owned venues, which is not the case currently.”

Brooks said he doesn’t expect the new venue to bring more shows to the market, but to redirect them. He also said the concert venue could compete for event business against the $456 million convention center expansion.

“As the CEO, I have the responsibility of keeping the board of apprised of business opportunities and business challenges,” he said.

Area alderman Robert Bauman, a board member, raised concern about formally opposing the deal.

“In my mind we get into dangerous waters. The Wisconsin Center District is a taxpayer-funded entity, which in my mind puts it in a odd position to object to a private entity, non-taxpayer-funded entity that wants to set up shop across the street. I want to throw that out here for the free market folks,” he said. Bauman has supported moving the proposed venue from the Third Ward to Deer District, both of which are in his district. “I just want to make that modest point, taking no positions on the merits.”

Brooks said competition is healthy. “I was expressing my concern to the board on the impact those venues could have on our business,” he said.

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2 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: FPC Files For Design Approval For Deer District Concert Complex”

  1. Michael Clausing says:

    More options are good. Now please run The Hop there with dedicated lanes on Vel Phillips.

  2. Polaris says:

    Well, if Peterson was involved in nixing Pabst City back in the day, I’m behind him! What a travesty that would have been.

    The Live Nation octopus will not increase competition as Bauman and Brooks seem to be arguing about.

    This is all about eliminating independents and steering even more money away from the city and southeastern Wisconsin. Live Nation claims this project with grow the entertainment pie in Milwaukee, but the market is only so big and the area already gets most of what it can support. It’s about giving more of the pie to Live Nation and cutting the others out.

    I’m a little tired of coverage of this issue that cites “neighbor opposition” for the originally proposed Third Ward site without mentioning that Live Nation’s first attempt was to partner with the nonprofit Milwaukee World Festival in a completely inappropriate way for MWF. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, Smiley.

    Now, Live Nation is partnering with the Bucks, who are acting in bad faith in their relationship with the Wisconsin Center. The “ghost hotel” to the south of Live Nation’s planed project appears to be at least 12 stories tall. This is clearly where any “convention hotel” will go. Again, the Bucks sucking as much as it can into its Deer District orbit.

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