Deer District concert venue complex narrowly clears initial government hurdle

With Plan Commission recommendation, proposal now moves to city zoning committee

Last updated on September 28th, 2022 at 02:04 pm

A concert venue complex proposed for the Deer District narrowly cleared its first governmental hurdle Monday evening, winning a 3-2 recommendation from the Milwaukee City Plan Commission following a nearly four-hour-long discussion.

FPC Live, an affiliate of Madison-based Frank Productions, plans to build a $50 million development with two concert venues, one with a capacity of 4,000 and the other with a capacity for 800, at the former Bradley Center site south of Fiserv Forum. The site is controlled by the Milwaukee Bucks. Neenah-based Miron Construction Co. Inc. will serve as the construction manager for the project, in partnership with Milwaukee-based JCP Construction, according to a news release on Monday.

With concert venues already allowed as a basic use in that part of downtown, commissioners had been gathered to address amendments to the General Planned Development (GPD) for the Deer District parcels, known as the Arena Master Plan, mainly development standards for the “block 3” that would impact the size of the lots where the concert venue, and an undeveloped parcel along North 4th Street. They were also asked to consider whether the city should create a new Detailed Planned Development (DPD) for the new concert venue dubbed the Block 3-Arena Master Plan, Phase 1.

Discussing the Department of Community Development’s support of those amendments, Sam Leichtling, city planning manager, noted that the department’s primary standard of review focused on the requirements of the existing GPD standards set forth by the Common Council and not what its potential impact on the marketplace might be.

“Historically, and currently, we have not used the zoning entitlement process to attempt to restrict competition between private entities within the same industry, such as proposals for downtown banks, bars, hotels and restaurants,” Leichtling said, adding that it is has been part of the existing downtown plan to encourage new entertainment uses for that part of downtown.

That didn’t stop a hail of dueling prognostications from speakers for and against the project, however.

Los Angeles-based Live Nation, one of the world’s largest live entertainment companies, owns a majority stake in Frank Productions. Opponents of FPC Live’s Milwaukee development say they are concerned that Live Nation’s tremendous industry influence will result in a significant number of acts performing there to the detriment of existing concert venues in Milwaukee.

Many of those gathered on Monday to voice their objections are part of a recently formed group of local venue operators opposing the FPC Live project, called Save MKE’s Music Scene LLC, which has predicted 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.

On Monday, those critics accused FPC live of trying to crush existing venues, like the Pabst Theater Group-managed Turner Hall Ballroom, located across the street from the site, and Miller High Life Theater.

Joel Plant, CEO of Frank Productions, has disputed those claims, stating that it is artists that will ultimately decide what venue they want to play, noting that “styles of the rooms are wildly different.”

Turner Hall Ballroom has a capacity of around 900 people. Miller High Life Theater, a seated venue, has a capacity of roughly 4,000 people. The FPC Live venues would be similar to Turner Hall in that most people attending shows would be standing.

Attorney David Holbrook, who is working with those opposed to the project, disagreed that the new venue would still leave plenty of acts interested in playing the city’s older, private run venues.

“To sit here and suggest that opening a 4,000-person room and an 800-person room, isn’t directly attempting to crush all of the other venues, is just not a serious statement. Every venue that they are going after, whether it be The Cactus Club or Shank Hall, are open rooms that can be beaten with that 800-person room,” Holbrook said.

John Wirth, an attorney representing Save MKE’s Music Scene LLC, added, that what the group is opposed to is not another music venue entering the scene but a “company (Live Nation) that controls the vast majority of the music scene in the world coming in and squelching all of the private venue operators that have venues here in Milwaukee.”

“If Frank Productions wasn’t part of Live Nation we wouldn’t be here fighting tonight,” Wirth said.

When discussions ultimately returned to the actual land use items before the commission, the main points of concern centered around communications with Turner Hall, and language in the existing General Planned Development that any development in the Arena Master Plan area take care to prevent adverse impacts (excluding competition) to the Turner Hall, such access to the building. Commissioners also expressed a desire to see a traffic study, as well as a better façade for a windowless part of side of the concert venue building that will face the lot on North Fourth Street where development is expected sometime in the future.

The proposed amendments are slated to go before the Zoning, Neighborhoods, and Development (ZND) Committee in about a month.

Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

Cara covers commercial and residential real estate. She has an extensive background in local government reporting and hopes to use her experience writing about both urban and rural redevelopment to better inform readers. Cara lives in Waukesha with her husband, a teenager, a toddler, a dog named Neutron, a bird named Potter, and a lizard named Peyoye. She loves music, food, and comedy, but not necessarily in that order.

No posts to display