On Nov. 1, the Milwaukee Common Council approved zoning standard changes related to a $50 million indoor concert venue complex that Madison-based concert promoter FPC Live plans to build in the Deer District in downtown Milwaukee. It was the final government hurdle in what had become a nearly year-long saga for FPC Live – and its Madison-based parent company Frank Productions – as it seeks to secure a foothold in the Milwaukee market.
Set to break ground this winter for an early 2024 completion, the planned project includes two concert halls – one capped at 4,000 people and the other at 800 – to be built on the northeast section of the Milwaukee Bucks-owned former Bradley Center site, just south of Fiserv Forum.
FPC Live expects to book 135 shows annually at the new venue complex, drawing artists of all genres and all styles – including those who may have overlooked Milwaukee in the past.
“Artists love new rooms,” said Charlie Goldstone, president of FPC Live. “We’re building it to be state of the art, not just for the patrons but for the artists, and so to give artists an amazing, new, positive experience in a city that maybe they haven’t been to – or maybe they have been to a lot and love – it’s something all artists want to take advantage of; they want to try out the new facilities, they want to see the crowds respond, they want to put their stamp on the nice new venues in markets.”
The city’s approval marked 11 months to the day since FPC Live first announced the project – originally planned for a site near the Summerfest grounds in the Historic Third Ward. That proposal, backed by a lease deal with Summerfest operator Milwaukee World Festival Inc., sparked a wave of vocal opposition from neighborhood groups concerned about noise, traffic and safety. Those concerns were quelled in May when FPC Live dropped plans to develop its project at the Third Ward site.
Meanwhile, a separate wave of opposition had gained momentum – one driven by other local concert promoters and venue operators who feared FPC Live’s expansion could cannibalize the city’s existing music scene, made up heavily of smaller, independently owned concert venues. Those concerns largely stemmed from Beverly Hills-based Live Nation’s majority stake in Frank Productions. Live Nation, the parent company of Ticketmaster, is considered the world’s largest concert promoter and in recent years has come under fire – including last month by the U.S. Justice Department – for what some see as a monopoly over the multibillion-dollar live music industry.
So, when FPC Live announced in early June it would press forward with its plans for the venue complex at a new location under a deal with the Milwaukee Bucks, issues of competition and antitrust took center stage.
A group of opponents formed an entity known as Save MKE’s Music Scene LLC to fight the project, using city meetings – intended to review land use and zoning requirements – as a platform of protest, arguing that Live Nation’s tremendous industry influence will result in a significant number of acts performing at the new venue to the detriment of Milwaukee’s existing concert venues.
Supporters of the project pushed back, touting the anticipated positive impact on the downtown economy, workforce, tourism industry and live music scene. City officials’ stance remained that issues of competition and antitrust were not for them to sort out and ultimately the Common Council gave FPC Live the green light.
Amidst the noise – and countless hours of public discussion with residents, business owners and city officials – FPC Live didn’t lose sight of its vision to invest further in a local music scene ripe for growth. For that reason, FPC Live is the BizTimes Milwaukee 2022 Best in Business Corporation of the Year.
“We went through the paces, we learned, we built relationships, we expanded relationships and we stayed true to the focus…,” said Joel Plant, chief executive officer at Frank Productions. “We recognize the opposition that we ran into. We understand the basis of the opposition. We simply disagree with the notion that Milwaukee is done growing and should maintain what it has been within this space and industry.”
Pushing the project through the city’s approval process was a huge milestone, but as Plant acknowledged, there’s still a building to be built, and that’s “a feat in and of itself.”
Hiring for the venue’s 18 full-time staff and hundreds of part-time workers will begin as soon as construction breaks ground, he said.
A project labor agreement with the Milwaukee Building & Construction Trades Council will help create create 150 to 200 full-time jobs during construction, and a labor peace agreement with the Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Union furthers efforts by the Bucks and the Deer District to increase living-wage employment opportunities for service workers.
“We’re not just going to build a building that’s great for the Milwaukee music scene, we’re going to build it and operate it in a way that’s great for the city of Milwaukee,” said Plant.