Sophie Bolich

Downtown Venues Announce Milwaukee Theater District

New coalition of groups and venues aims to spotlight city as arts and culture destination.

By - Nov 30th, 2022 05:21 pm
Riverside Theater. Photo courtesy of the Pabst Theater Group.

Riverside Theater. Photo courtesy of the Pabst Theater Group.

Representatives of nine downtown venues gathered at Riverside Theater Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the launch of the Milwaukee Theater District.

The newly-created MTD is an alliance of performing arts groups, theater venues and live entertainment organizations that aims to elevate Milwaukee’s reputation as a premier arts and cultural destination.

The group consists of the Bradley Symphony Center, Marcus Performing Arts Center, Wisconsin Center District, Miller High Life Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Pabst Theater, Pabst Theater Group, The Riverside Theater, Sunstone Studios, The ARC Theatre at Saint Kate The Arts Hotel and Turner Ballroom.

Also part of MTD are these performance groups: Black Arts MKE, First Stage, Florentine Opera Company, Milwaukee Ballet and Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra.

The district is also supported by Milwaukee Downtown, Business Improvement District #21, United Performing Arts Fund and Visit Milwaukee.

The district has no formal boundaries or funding source, but the majority of participating venues and groups are located within several blocks of each other in the downtown area.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Visit Milwaukee CEO Peggy Williams-Smith joined MTD representatives for the occasion.

‘Through advocacy and cooperative marketing campaigns, the Milwaukee Theater District will drive visitation, stoke local pride and enhance the city’s reputation as a top tier arts and cultural destination,” Williams-Smith said.

The mayor added his praise and excitement for the new alliance.

“What we have here at the center of our city is a center of culture that deserves a lot more appreciation,” Mayor Johnson said. “The Milwaukee theater district is a big plus to our local economy. It generates spending and creates jobs, it helps to establish the foundation for our tourism and our hospitality industry.”

In fact, MTD venues report employing over 1,000 Milwaukeeans and still more volunteers, said Visit Milwaukee in a news release.

All together, MTD’s venues have a combined 15,000 theater seats and 2,100 annual performances, attracting two million attendees each year.

‘The Milwaukee theater district is a core part of Milwaukee’s entertainment industry, and our entertainment industry generates significant economic impact to the tune of an estimated $400 million in visitor spending each year, according to Tourism Economics,” Williams-Smith said.

The newly-formed district is a testament to Milwaukee’s “close-knit creative community,” which National Geographic specifically named in designating the city a top world city in October.

Mark Neihaus, president and CEO of Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, affirmed that description, stating, “I appreciate everybody on this stage right now. We’re all friends, we all work together.”

“We have all these incredible assets here,” Neihaus added. “And I’m so thrilled that we are putting a stamp on it with this theater district in order to help illuminate what we already have.”

Notably absent from the group are two proposed concert venues planned for a vacant site across from Fiserv Forum. Several representatives included in MTD have been outspoken in their opposition to the upcoming venues.

2 thoughts on “Downtown Venues Announce Milwaukee Theater District”

  1. Thomas Sepllman says:

    Good morning Ms Bolich Would like to talk with you as you were at the meeting about what they see as their challenges and if the have a contact person for the group. Assume at some point there will be a point person.

    414 403 1341

    Tom Spellman

  2. Polaris says:

    I like this move. Smart, given the headwinds these venues and organizations face. Of course, I get that this is more about marketing and filling seats. That said, it would be nice to have an official, geographic theater district with its own identity.

    The FPC Live/Ticketmaster/Bucks Billionaires concert venues aren’t part of this because The Deer District has proposed its own “single property owner” business improvement district separate from BID 21. Let’s call this the “Big Bucks BID.” The Bucks continue to flip the finger at the rest of downtown, pretty much asking to be left alone unless, of course, it wants funding, or approval for monopoly-backed concert venues. The “Big Bucks BID” would take away the funding it currently provides to BID 21 and save it for itself. Next thing you know, the “Big Bucks BID” will sprout rockets and thrusters and leave downtown entirely.

    On an interesting and related note, when proposal of the “Big Bucks BID” was announced, it was suggested that the BID was created in 2020. If so, then one might ask why the Bucks are proposing it in 2022? I checked the map on the BID 21 website and it does show a carve out for the Deer District. I contend that this is different from the map onsite at the beginning of 2022, even though the map says it was created in 2020.

    As well, with all the hoopla surrounding BID 21’s design of a new 2040 Downtown Plan and request for community input, no one seemed to mention a carve out for the “Big Bucks BID.” Indeed, the online map to this day seeking input shows the Deer District as part of BID 21.

    Weird, right?

    Anyway, hooray for MKE theater venues and groups in BID 21 for pulling together!

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