Deer District Concert Venue Wins First Approval, Despite Objections
Other concert venues fight Live Nation's entrance into Milwaukee market.
The proposal from Frank Productions, Live Nation and the Milwaukee Bucks to develop a new concert venue across from Fiserv Forum gained its first public approval Monday, but not before a substantial number of community members affiliated with other music venues testified in opposition.
Focused on live music acts with primarily standing crowds, the complex would have halls with capacities of 800 and 4,000 people. Madison-based Frank Productions would own and operate the facility through its FPC Live subsidiary, a partnership of Frank and the nation’s largest concert promoter and ticketing company Live Nation.
A zoning change is necessary to enable any development on the former Bradley Center site as part of the 2016 arena zoning agreement. With two abstentions and two votes in opposition, the City Plan Commission narrowly recommended the Common Council approve the change. The council’s zoning committee will next host a formal public hearing, before the full council will vote on whether to approve the project. The proposal would also need council approval for a liquor license. Area alderman Robert Bauman did not speak at Monday’s hearing.
Opponents of the development, working as a coalition known as Save MKE’s Music Scene, told the commission that the development would harm the economic viability of their venues, hinder downtown security because it lacks a crowd-control plan for fans waiting to enter the complex and would not increase the number of shows in Milwaukee, but would steer the many touring acts booked with Live Nation to the venue.
“This is an endurance game to see who can stay in business longer while losing money,” said promoter Adam Peterman.
“Historically and currently we have not used the zoning ordinance to restrict competition between private entities,” said Leichtling. He said a traffic study for the development was still outstanding, but that it would focus on things like signal timings and loading zones.
Attorney Brian Randall, representing FPC, said the proposal meets the requirements of the base 2016 zoning package (general planned development) the council approved.
Architects Greg Uhen and Troy Jacoby detailed the complex’s design, which includes expanding the Deer District plaza southwest, building privately-owned street and loading docks on the building’s west side and planning for a future building on the east side across from Turner Hall.
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 artist green rooms with connected outdoor deck.
A space along N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. would be set aside for a 38-foot-tall, 10,000-square-foot building. “We would like to construct it concurrently with the larger music venue,” said Bucks President Peter Feigin. “We find this parcel is beyond marketable.”
But project opponents raised concerns that the building could be several years away, leaving a blank wall that the design team said was intended to be covered up.
Project opponents also raised concerns that the south and west sides of the complex, largely windowless walls, would also be exposed for years.
That drew the interest of at least one of the commissioners.
“If it’s going to be just a precast [concrete] tilt up for the next 20 years, that’s going to be a pretty terrible condition,” said commissioner and architect Allyson Nemec of the south wall. She said she would be more comfortable if the Bucks were advancing developments on the east side along N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. and on the south along W. State St.
Uhen said the east wall isn’t a blank concrete wall, but would be brick. “Which almost makes me think it’s going to be there forever,” said Nemec. A landscaping plan calls for trees to be planted.
“We completely understand,” said Feigin. “We will invest in it today, but it’s not nice enough to remain forever.” Uhen said a similar situation existed on the west side of the arena parking structure, but was covered before the arena opened by the Five Fifty Ultra Lofts.
A future building on the east side of the complex would require additional zoning approval and, as is included in the arena zoning package, need to work with the design of the Turner Hall structure.
Save MKE’s Music Scene leader Craig Peterson raised concern about the surge in downtown shootings, some of which have been tied to events at Deer District, and the nature of the standing-room venues drawing long outdoor lines hours before the shows.
Commissioner Ranell Washington said he had some reservations about the project moving forward given the testimony in opposition and concerns about neighborhood safety, but moved approval. But his motion failed to find a second.
FPC President Joel Plant defended the economics of the concert venue. He said his company has been working on the complex since 2019, including a months-long public consideration of a Historic Third Ward site and private consideration of developing it in the proposed Iron District.
He called an attempt to oppose his venue by Pabst Theater Group president Gary Witt “ironic” and “disingenuous” given that Witt is working to build a new venue as part of the Iron District proposal with Live Nation’s largest competitor AEG.
“The other members of our group haven’t opposed his venue because we believe in free competition in the marketplace,” said Wirth. He said the group’s members have opposed the “10,000-pound gorilla” that is the Live Nation and Ticketmaster conglomerate. “If Frank Productions wasn’t part of Live Nation we wouldn’t be here fighting with them.”
After nearly another hour of debate after Washington’s first motion, which included an appearance from DCD Commissioner Lafayette Crump and a suggestion to focus on only the land-use aspects, the commission returned to debating motions and walls.
Feigin said the development was amenable to improving the east wall and lot. Nemec also pushed for improvements to the south lot, targeted for a future, larger building. She said it would keep egg off the face of the commission should development not progress.
The commission ultimately voted for a revised motion for approval from Washington, with Nemec and Willie Smith in opposition. Chair Stephanie Bloomingdale, head of the AFL CIO of Wisconsin, recused herself because she said she works with one of the groups.
Commissioner Tarik Moody, an employee of Radio Milwaukee, recused himself from the vote because he said his employer would benefit from the new venue. But he did tell the commission that Radio Milwaukee’s new HYFIN station expected to see more artists featured on the urban alternative station come to the city as a result of the venue. Moody tried to speak again later to say he goes to Chicago regularly for concerts, but Bloomingdale said his recusal prohibited his participation.
August Renderings and Site Plan
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Deer District Concert Halls Okayed Again - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 25th, 2022
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Bucks Building Street Through Bradley Center Site - Jeramey Jannene - Oct 20th, 2022
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Deer District Concert Venue Wins First Approval, Despite Objections - Jeramey Jannene - Sep 26th, 2022
- Eyes on Milwaukee: FPC Files For Design Approval For Deer District Concert Complex - Jeramey Jannene - Aug 25th, 2022
- Murphy’s Law: The Battle For Downtown Concert Venues - Bruce Murphy - Jun 1st, 2022
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Bucks, FPC Plan Downtown Concert Venue - Jeramey Jannene - May 23rd, 2022
- No New Third Ward Concert Venue - Jeramey Jannene - May 13th, 2022
- Pabst Theater Group Adds Fifth Venue - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 28th, 2022
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Third Ward Zoning Change On Hold - Jeramey Jannene - Mar 8th, 2022
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Won’t Review New Concert Venues - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 11th, 2022
Read more about FPC Live venues here