May 13 was a terrible night for downtown Milwaukee as 21 people were injured in three shootings near the Deer District. A massive number of people were in the Deer District and the surrounding area for Game 6 of the Bucks-Celtics playoff series, and many of them ran in terror at the sound of gunshots when the shootings occurred.
Crime has risen significantly in Milwaukee, and other major American cities in recent years. Milwaukee has experienced increased number of homicides, vehicle thefts and reckless driving incidents.
The May 13 shootings raised serious concerns about the safety of downtown, especially as a nightlife destination. Crime is a major threat to the revitalization that has occurred downtown for the last 20 years.
However, it’s been extremely encouraging in recent weeks to see businesses based outside of Milwaukee express a huge amount of confidence in downtown by unveiling plans for major investments in entertainment venues here.
Just a week after the May 13 shootings, Grafton-based Kacmarcik Enterprises and Kenosha-based Bear Development announced plans for a $160 million sports and entertainment development, called Iron District MKE, for a forlorn 11-acre site just northeast of the Marquette Interchange. Those plans include an 8,000-seat soccer stadium for a professional team and Marquette University’s soccer and lacrosse teams, a 3,500-person capacity indoor concert venue – to be run by The Pabst Theater Group and a yet-to-be-named partner – a 140-room hotel, 99 multi-family housing units as well as restaurants and retail space.
I talked to Bear Development CEO S.R. Mills about the ambitious Iron District MKE plans and asked him if he was concerned about crime in downtown Milwaukee.
“Certainly, we’re concerned about it. … ,” Mills said. “We understand that anytime you have a place with mass gatherings there is a risk of various crimes occurring. I’ve got all of the faith in Mayor (Cavalier) Johnson and County Executive David Crowley and (Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffrey Norman) that we’re starting to bring real solutions to how we can mitigate this, especially at times when we have a lot of people convening in various areas.”
Two days after the Iron District MKE project announcement, Madison-based FPC Live announced plans to build an indoor concert venue complex, with a 4,000-person capacity venue and an 800-person capacity venue, in the Deer District. That announcement was made just 10 days after FPC Live said it was dropping plans for a similar facility near the Summerfest grounds in the Third Ward.
It was another example that while some are dwelling on downtown Milwaukee’s problems, others are eager to invest there and move forward with plans to make it better.
“(One) antidote to public crime and disorder is heavily activated spaces, so having a lot of people active in a space is good, it’s healthy, it creates joy, it creates fun and satisfaction,” said Joel Plant, CEO of FPC Live parent company Frank Productions.