Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Council Unanimously Approves Deer District Concert Venues

Live Nation cleared to enter Milwaukee market, partner with Milwaukee Bucks.

By - Nov 1st, 2022 01:14 pm
FPC's proposed Deer District venue. Rendering by Eppstein Uhen Architects.

FPC’s proposed Deer District venue. Rendering by Eppstein Uhen Architects.

A new concert complex planned for a vacant site across from Fiserv Forum cleared a major hurdle Tuesday.

The Common Council unanimously approved a zoning change to enable a proposal from Frank ProductionsLive Nation and the Milwaukee Bucks to develop a two-hall live music venue on a portion of the former Bradley Center site. After two multi-hour public hearings that saw substantial opposition, the council did not even debate the matter before voting.

The building would be located at the southwest corner of the intersection of W. Highland Ave. and N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. and open up towards the Deer District plaza. The complex would include 800 and 4,000-person venues targeted at primarily standing crowds. The development team calls it a $50 million project.

The opposition to the proposal comes almost entirely from a coalition, Save MKE’s Music Scene, whose members have connections to competing venues. Its members have argued that the city is allowing an anti-competitive business, similar to Walmart, into the market. Live Nation, which co-owns FPC Live with Frank Productions, is the country’s leading concert promoter and counts Ticketmaster among its subsidiaries. Project supporters have argued the new complex would serve an unmet segment of the market and grow the size of Milwaukee’s music scene.

The Department of City Development previously recommended the council approve the zoning change based on its compliance with a 2015 general planned development zoning district for the entire Deer District development. Each individual building in the district is required to get council design approval as a result of the broader zoning district. “We have historically not used the zoning entitlement process to try to restrict competition,” said planning manager Sam Leichtling during an Oct. 25 Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee hearing.

“We are not the antitrust division of the City of Milwaukee,” said area Alderman Robert Bauman at the hearing. “There is no subsidy for this project. I cannot be more clear about that.”

After a several-hour hearing before the City Plan Commission in September, the development team modified the proposed complex based on the commission’s feedback. It will still open up to the plaza in front of Fiserv Forum, but the building is no longer set back from N. Vel R. Phillips Ave. The setback was originally intended to allow a small commercial building to be constructed that would have covered a windowless wall.

The revised proposal has a more activated facade along the east side, while a special loading area is created on the west side alongside a one-block private street the Bucks would build through the site. Bucks President Peter Feigin said in October that the new street was a $2 million investment on top of a $4 million investment to demolish the Bradley Center. Approximately two acres of land would remain to develop additional buildings at the site.

The complex is being designed by Eppstein Uhen Architects and would be built by a partnership of Miron Construction and JCP Construction. Mayor Cavalier Johnson, who still needs to sign off on the zoning change, has endorsed the complex’s development and spoke at two press conferences about the proposal.

“The bottom line is this: I want more tourism in Milwaukee. I want more tourism dollars spent in Milwaukee. I want more employment in our hospitality industry right here in Milwaukee. I want more positive activity down here in the Deer District and throughout Milwaukee. And I want an even greater number of our entertainment options in Milwaukee as well,” said Johnson in May.

The zoning approval might signal the end of a nearly year-long process that saw FPC first propose to develop the venue in the Historic Third Ward on a piece of land owned by Summerfest-host Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. But that site, which drew substantial neighborhood opposition, was dropped in May in favor of the Deer District proposal.

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. Its plans for concert venues in Milwaukee would put it in competition with Pabst Theater Group (PTG) and The Rave. The new building would be directly across from Turner Hall, a portion of which is leased to PTG.

Pabst Theater Group, part of the Save MKE’s Music Scene coalition, is proposing to build a similar, 3,500-person venue in the Iron District in partnership with national promoter AEG.

The FPC complex still will need to come back to the council to secure a liquor license and public entertainment premises license. The complex is expected to open in early 2024.

The larger room in the new complex 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 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.

Opponents raised concerns that the new complex would result in Live Nation steering its tours to the new venue, hurting the locally-owned music venue. But FPC officials have said they believe it will increase the number of artists coming to the city.

FPC and PTG have already engaged in a concert booking arms race in Milwaukee. PTG struck a deal to be the exclusive booker at the Miller High Life Theatre, while FPC has an exclusive agreement for concerts at the Bradley Symphony Center. FPC was already booking shows at Fiserv Forum on a non-exclusive basis and has a preferred promoter deal for concert bookings at Summerfest’s American Family Insurance Amphitheater and BMO Harris Pavilion.

Revised Renderings – October 2022

September Renderings

August Renderings and Site Plan

If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits.

3 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Council Unanimously Approves Deer District Concert Venues”

  1. Polaris says:

    As many know, I’m a huge proponent of downtown development. However, I predict that none of what the Frank Productions/Live Nation octopus has promised will come to pass.

    Let’s all come back here five years from now (shall we?) and see how significantly the Milwaukee music scene has actually grown, how competitive it is (how many competitors remain), and where ticket prices end up.

    The only ones *really* making out on this are the octopus and the Bucks.

  2. ringo muldano says:

    Live Nation is a criminal enterprise. .

  3. says:

    I think the city will regret this in time. Live Nation and Ticketmaster are monopolistic enterprises that suppress competition in entertainment choices. That, of course, raises prices- check out the “fees” attached to all LN/TN events. Also, Will this “venue” really follow through with the deal they made with MASH to be a union shop? Vamos a ver.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us