City officials push for public input opportunity on proposed Third Ward event venue complex

Rendering of the proposed music venue in Milwaukee's Third Ward. (Rendering: Eppstein Uhen Architects)

City officials are pushing for at least one public involvement meeting on a proposed indoor music venue complex next to the Summerfest grounds in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward.

Madison-based Frank Productions recently announced plans to build a complex with two music venues on what’s now a surface parking lot south of the Summerfest administration building at 639 E. Summerfest Place and west of Henry Maier Festival Park.

The Historic Third Ward Architectural Review Board got its first look at the project on Wednesday. The review board reviews and approves the design of new Third Ward buildings.

But the board discussion only partly addressed the design aspects of the project. Members also explored potential access issues to the site.

Greg Patin, planning and development manager of Milwaukee’s Department of City Development, said the complex would be built on a site that’s not attached to a public street. The building as proposed would face a private drive.

Port Milwaukee’s Board of Harbor Commissioners would need to approve an agreement allowing people to legally access the site. The port owns the land where the public access would be, and leases it to Summerfest operator Milwaukee World Festival Inc. The land where the complex itself would be built is owned by Milwaukee World Festival.

Ron San Felippo, a member of the Third Ward review panel and the Board of Harbor Commissioners, said the harbor board wants to ensure the project is brought to a public hearing. Perhaps the only opportunity for that to happen is during the approval process for this access agreement.

Further complicating matters is the fact the Summerfest lease ends in 2030. This could leave the new venue only a handful of years of access, said San Felippo.

Relying on the Board of Harbor Commissioners to lead a public comment process would be “fitting a square peg in a round hole,” said Alderman Robert Bauman, who also sits on the architectural review board.

One way to remedy that would be if the project team would apply for a zoning change for the site. That would trigger a full hearing process by the City Plan Commission and Common Council, Bauman said.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett agreed there needs to be a chance for residents to comment on the project, according to a spokesman.

“The mayor supports the idea of the promoters and developers providing a significant public opportunity for neighbors to express opinions about the project,” Barrett spokesman Jeff Fleming said in an email. “That has been conveyed to them by the port.”

Patin also encouraged the project team to connect with the city’s Department of Neighborhood Services to go over potential zoning code issues.

BizTimes recently reported mixed reactions to the project from local venue operators and music professionals.

People in attendance of Wednesday’s meeting, both in-person and virtually, included owners of nearby properties and operators of existing event venues.

The complex would include two venues one with a capacity of 800 and the other with a capacity of 4,000. The project team said the larger venue would total approximately 90,000 square feet, and the smaller one would be about 20,000 square feet.

Construction is scheduled to begin early next year, with the venues projected to open after Summerfest 2023, pending approvals.

The project will be developed and owned by Marquee Ventures LLC, a San Diego-based third-party development company, and leased to and operated by Frank Productions subsidiary FPC Live. The site would be leased to Marquee Ventures under a long-term ground lease.

Alex Zank, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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