Members of the Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday approved a measure that allows the expansion of the Wisconsin Center to receive financial backing from the state, making it easier to put together a financing deal on the project.
The downtown convention center, located at the northwest corner of Wisconsin and Vel R. Phillips avenues, is on track to be updated and expanded. Officials with the Wisconsin Center District, which operates the convention center and other downtown venues, recently named a project design team and construction management team.
Tuesday's approval by Milwaukee aldermen relates to the use of state moral obligation to support the proposed expansion. This doesn't mean the state will put taxpayer dollars toward the project. Rather, it is essentially a pledge that state lawmakers will appropriate money toward debt-service payments if the district ever was not able to do so for its bonding.
The city needed to certify the use of state moral obligation since it is the sponsoring municipality, according to a news release. Alderman Robert Bauman, who sits on the WCD board and represents the downtown area, previously said the approval would be "totally routine."
With the move now endorsed by the city, it next heads to the Wisconsin secretaries of administration and revenue. They will have 30 days to either accept or reject it, said WCD spokeswoman Sarah Maio.
"Receiving the Milwaukee Common Council’s approval is a critical step in the Wisconsin Center expansion project," Marty Brooks, WCD chief executive officer, said in a statement. "Today, we took a major step forward in building a world-class convention center that will have a tremendous impact on Milwaukee and all of Wisconsin."
Meanwhile, work continues on other elements of the project, including design, cost projections and financing plans.
Maio said designers will finish up drawings by the end of this week or early next week. The drawings will then be reviewed by WCD officials, and will also be sent to the construction management team. The construction managers will use the drawings to finalize a cost estimate.
The team will unveil project renderings when the WCD board meets on March 6. Then, at the April 2 meeting, the board will vote on the financial package to fund the project, said Maio. Board members previously approved preparing up to $300 million in bonds for the project.
WCD is targeting a spring 2021 groundbreaking.
Officials and consultants have said an expanded convention center will allow Milwaukee to better compete with peer cities, and could bring more (and bigger) conventions to the city.