Common Council approves zoning for Deer District concert venue complex

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Zoning standard changes related to FPC Live’s $50 million concert venue planned for the Deer District in downtown Milwaukee received unanimous approval from the Common Council on Tuesday, allowing the project to proceed to site plan reviews, and ultimately construction.

There was no discussion on the matter today by the council. The move follows last weeks endorsement by the city’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee, September’s backing by the Plan Commission, and weeks of objections raised by existing concert venue owners and operators in Milwaukee, including Wisconsin Center District CEO Marty Brooks, and The Pabst Theater group which operates The Pabst Theater, The Riverside Theater, Turner Hall and the Miller High Life Theater.

FPC Live, an affiliate of Madison-based Frank Productions, in partnership with the Milwaukee Bucks, plans to build two concert venues – one with a capacity of 4,000 people and the other with a capacity for 800 – on the northeast section of the former Bradley Center site, just south of Fiserv Forum. The project is expected to break ground by the end of this year and be complete in early 2024.

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While a concert venue is already a permitted use under the area’s zoning requirements, the project requires changes in the zoning standards for the former Bradley Center site under the 2016 Arena Master Plan zoning agreement. The developers have also proposed a change in zoning from a General Planned Development to a Detailed Planned Development for the project. The changes won a 3-2 recommendation from the City Plan Commission last month and a 5-0 recommendation from the ZND last Tuesday.

The Common Council voted 10-0 to approve those changes today, with one absense.

ZND’s public hearing, much like that of the Plan Commission, centered on concerns over competition and fear that FPC Live may cannibalize the city’s existing independent music venues. Frank Productions is majority owned by Los Angeles-based Live Nation, one of the world’s largest live entertainment companies. An opposition group called Save MKE’s Music Scene LLC has said that Live Nation will put independent concert venue operators in Milwaukee of out of business, by only allowing Live Nation touring acts to play in Live Nation-controlled venues.

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“We will see the closing of many iconic venues in Milwaukee over the next few years,” said Craig Peterson, the leader of Save MKE’s Music Scene, in response to Tuesday’s Common Council vote. “It is a very sad day for music lovers in Milwaukee.”

Peterson, who has compared Live Nation to Walmart, also said Milwaukeeans should get ready to pay more for concert tickets now that Live Nation will be more involved in the local concert scene.

But supporters of the FPC Live project say it will have a positive impact on the downtown economy, workforce, tourism industry and live music scene, and could attract more artists to perform here.

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Following last week’s ZND Committee, Ald. Robert Bauman, who represents the 4th Aldermanic District, which includes the site where the venue will be constructed, noted that issues of competition and antitrust are not for the city to sort out. Bauman, who did not speak during Tuesday’s council meeting, also noted that project checks all the boxes of what aldermen typically consider in a detailed planned development.

“The whole issue of economic impact regulating competition is something we don’t do and frankly shouldn’t do because we’re not good at it, we’re not expert at it, we don’t have the tools to reach an informed conclusion,” Bauman said. “It’s a permitted use under the general plan, it’s a $50 million investment with no subsidy. It will be a tax paying entity going forward. It’s on vacant land that is underutilized to say the least. They’ve agreed to a community benefits agreement. They’ve hired a minority contractor as a major participant in the construction … To reach an informed conclusion to the point where you turn down a development that touches every single base that we typically rely on in approving developments would be putting politics over what we’re supposed to do.”

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