Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Family Foundation Gifts The Rep $5 Million For Theater Project

Herzfeld Foundation awards biggest grant in its history.

By - Feb 2nd, 2023 06:03 pm
The Herzfeld Foundation Education & Engagement Center. Rendering by Eppstein Uhen Architects.

The Herzfeld Foundation Education & Engagement Center. Rendering by Eppstein Uhen Architects.

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater‘s $75 million theater project received a major boost this week.

The Richard Herzfeld and Ethel Herzfeld Foundation is giving the theater $5 million, the largest gift in the foundation’s history. It has been a longtime supporter of the nonprofit theater group.

The grant will help build out what will be known as The Herzfeld Foundation Education & Engagement Center.

“For 70 years, Milwaukee has benefited from having a world-class theater in our city. For many of those years, the Foundation has witnessed first-hand the transformative impact of Milwaukee Repertory Theater and its renowned education and engagement programs,” said foundation board president Carmen Haberman in a statement announcing the award. “We are proud to make this historic grant to Milwaukee Rep’s Powering Milwaukee Campaign to ensure that future generations continue to reap the benefits of the theater and its programming, to create a dedicated space to grow Milwaukee Rep’s education and engagement programs, and to power a more creative and connected Milwaukee.”

As part of publicly unveiling the campaign to overhaul its theater complex, 108 E. Wells St., in November, The Rep said an undisclosed foundation was providing a gift to name the education center.

“The Foundation’s support of arts and education, in memory of Richard and Ethel, has been a driving force behind Milwaukee’s world-class cultural community. This visionary investment in Milwaukee’s future generations will ensure that we can grow our award-winning education and engagement programs and better serve the more than 20,000 students and countless community members who participate currently,” said The Rep executive director Chad Bauman in a statement.

The current theater center, created in the 1980s from a former power plant, does not include any classrooms or dedicated community spaces. The new center will include a performance venue with seating for up to 125 patrons, multiple classrooms, accessible restrooms, a prep kitchen, a direct entrance from the Milwaukee RiverWalk and an event space that can also be used by community partners.

The campaign calls for completely overhauling the theater complex.

In September, the organization publicly revealed the then-conceptual project as part of announcing a 20-year, $10 million naming rights agreement with Associated Bank, which owns the adjoining office tower. The redeveloped theater complex will be known as the Associated Bank Theater Center. In addition to the office tower, it’s attached to a complex that includes the Pabst Theater and Saint Kate The Arts Hotel.

The new mainstage theater, to replace the 720-seat Quadracci Powerhouse theater, would have a flexible configuration, a fly loft to move scenery, accessibility improvements and new production technology. The number of seats would be reduced to 650, in part because the new seats would be wider.

A new black-box-style theater, would replace the 205-seat Stiemke Studio. The reconfiguration would increase the capacity and provide for easier theater reconfigurations. A new lobby and sound barrier would be created. The 186-seat Stackner Cabaret, which was overhauled in 2018, would see minor changes.

A new large lobby, named for Sandra and William Haack, would be created facing E. Wells St. and is intended in part to better connect the theater complex with the attached buildings. A riverwalk gathering space would be named for Northwestern Mutual and allow for pre- and post-show events.

The Herzfeld Foundation has long contributed to arts and culture groups and has been instrumental in the development and sustained operation of many nonprofit organizations. The Herzfeld family, through Richard’s father Carl Herzfeld and Richard himself, was highly-influential in Milwaukee’s development during the first half of the 20th century. The Herzfeld-Phillipson Corporation owned the Boston Store from 1906 to 1948.

Richard, who worked his way up from stocker to president of the department store, helped develop a number of major community amenities through the Greater Milwaukee Committee, including County Stadium, the Milwaukee County Zoo and Milwaukee Public Museum.

Richard passed away in 1980. His wife Ethel passed away in 1997, months after turning 100. The couple had no surviving children.

The foundation had long been led by Bill Haberman until his passing in 2019 and is now led by his wife Carmen. The foundation’s assets, which can be traced back to the sale of the department store, have quietly grown for decades and stand at approximately $74 million, according to its 2019 federal 990 filing.

At the November unveiling, Bill Haack said that a 2019 study is guiding the theater redevelopment effort. Among its four conclusions were that the organization had outgrown its current theaters and that the theaters themselves were incapable of supporting modern production techniques. Completed by consulting firm Auerbach Pollock Friedlander, the study also identified that the complex as a whole needed substantial investment for The Rep to be able to attract and retain theater-industry talent. The study concluded that all of the major mechanical systems need to be replaced given their age and efficiency. Bauman said the organization is spending more than $1 million annually on maintenance of those systems.

The Rep is working with Eppstein Uhen ArchitectsHunzinger Construction and construction management and advisory firm Chamberlin LLC.


Complex Photos

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