At long last, the downtown Milwaukee convention center has a naming rights sponsor.
The Wisconsin Center District, which owns and operates the convention center that opened in 1998 and was originally known as the Midwest Express Center, has been seeking a corporate sponsor for the name of the facility since 2013. There were no takers, so it has been called the Wisconsin Center for the past decade.
Until now. Milwaukee-based multinational investment bank and financial services company Robert W. Baird & Co. has agreed to be the naming rights sponsor for the facility, which starting next year will be known as the Baird Center, under a pending 15-year deal.
Baird is an extremely prestigious brand. In 2021, the firm had 4,700 employes, revenue of $3.4 billion and operating income of $609 million, with more than 160 offices in the U.S., plus offices in London and Singapore.
And the fact that Baird’s executives think it would be good for their brand to have its name on the downtown Milwaukee convention center says a lot about the direction that the Wisconsin Center District is heading under its president and CEO Marty Brooks. He came to lead the WCD in 2018 after serving as senior VP and GM for the America’s Center Complex in St. Louis.
Brooks’ most impressive accomplishment in Milwaukee was finding a way to finally move forward with plans to expand the convention center, an effort that has been stalled for many years.
Construction on the $456 million expansion project began in 2021. When complete, the Baird Center will have 52 meeting rooms, a 300,000-square-foot exhibit hall and a new rooftop ballroom with seating for 2,000 and outdoor terraces. The larger facility will be able to host more and larger events.
The project is scheduled to be complete next year, in time for the 2024 Republican National Convention in Milwaukee.
While the RNC’s main stage will be at Fiserv Forum, the convention will use numerous venues in Milwaukee, including the Baird Center. It will be a huge opportunity for Milwaukee and the Wisconsin Center District to show the world that the city and its newly expanded convention center is a great destination site to host major conventions and events.
“I’ve spoken to my counterparts in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Minneapolis. (Hosting a national political convention) truly does boost lead generation for other meetings and conventions, it boosts leisure travel. It also spurs economic development,” said VISIT Milwaukee president and CEO Peggy Williams-Smith.
And the RNC will be the first great branding opportunity for Baird as the naming rights sponsor for the convention center.
“This agreement fits with our ongoing efforts to build Baird’s brand across our global footprint,” said Baird chairman and CEO Steve Booth.
Baird’s sponsorship is yet another sign that things are looking up for the Wisconsin Center District and the city’s tourism industry.