Another big building project for Milwaukee


Don Smiley and Bob Babisch of Summerfest.

With cranes towering over numerous construction sites in the Milwaukee area, it is hard to believe yet another major project is being planned in the city.

But Summerfest chief executive officer and president Don Smiley recently told BizTimes Milwaukee reporter Ben Stanley that Milwaukee World Festival Inc. is working on plans to replace the Marcus Amphitheater at Henry Maier Festival Park.

The Marcus Amphitheater, built in 1987, is nearing the end of its useful life, according to Summerfest CEO Don Smiley. Planning has begun to replace it.
The Marcus Amphitheater.

“That’s definitely in the future of this festival, to have a new amphitheater,” Smiley said. “It needs to be rebuilt.”

Read more of the inside story on the business of Summerfest in the cover story of this issue of BizTimes Milwaukee.

Although Smiley did not disclose any details about the plans to replace the Marcus Amphitheater, the fact that Summerfest leaders are considering this project is big news. The Marcus Amphitheater is the largest stage on the festival grounds and seats 23,000, making it one of the largest venues in the state. It opened in 1987 and cost $12 million to build.

That price tag is worth about $25 million in 2016 dollars, based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator. It’s a safe bet that a replacement for the Marcus Amphitheater would cost at least that much, and probably more for an improved facility with additional amenities.

Milwaukee World Festival Inc., which runs Summerfest, has done a great job of enhancing the festival grounds over the years and has proven it can get big projects done. A two-phase, $35 million construction project from 2010 to 2012 created a new South Gate, rebuilt the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard Stage and built the BMO Harris Pavilion stage.

A corporate sponsorship will be key to rebuilding the Amphitheater.

This project is a huge opportunity to add another major new landmark to Milwaukee. Whenever it decides to move forward with the project, Milwaukee World Festival needs to replace the Amphitheater with a similar-sized venue that enhances the spectator experience with more amenities and upgrades to the concessions and bathroom facilities. The project will be a grand slam if it also provides an enhanced view of the downtown skyline and becomes a signature piece of lakefront architecture.

Milwaukee-based Eppstein Uhen Architects designed the recent improvements to the festival grounds, so it’s a good bet it will design the new Amphitheater. Whichever design firm is selected, hopefully it brings its A game and creates something special for the community.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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