Downtown hotels fill up ahead of NBA Finals games in Milwaukee

Saint Kate is located at 139 E. Kilbourn Ave. Photo credit: Marcus Hotels & Resorts

Last updated on July 12th, 2021 at 01:59 pm

As the NBA Finals heads to Milwaukee this weekend, many downtown hotels are booked solid.

BizTimes Milwaukee contacted several hotels that reported 100% occupancy ahead of Game 3 and Game 4, which will take place Sunday and Wednesday at Fiserv Forum. The Milwaukee Bucks trail the Phoenix Suns 2-0 in the Bucks’ first NBA Finals appearance since 1974.

As of Friday morning, VISIT Milwaukee wasn’t able to estimate the total number of visitors The Finals will bring to the city, but the Bucks confirmed that 200 members of the international and national media are making the trip.

Much of the visiting media, among other playoff-related guests, are staying at the 307-room Pfister Hotel and 219-room Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel, said Tim Smith, general manager at The Pfister. Both Marcus Corp. properties are fully booked this weekend. The 729-room Hilton Milwaukee City Center, which is Marcus’ third downtown hotel, is also full.

The return of weddings has helped The Pfister reach 100% occupancy most weekends for the past three months, said Smith, but the NBA Playoffs are a “monster demand generator,” helping to fill downtown hotels at “very nice” rates.

Accommodating this group of travelers means extra focus on services like overnight dry cleaning, strong Wi-Fi and currency exchange, but it also comes with the opportunity to show off Milwaukee to people who may not have otherwise made the trip.

“We had people arrive yesterday and today, and the first game’s not until Sunday, with Game 4 on Wednesday, so there’s a lot of free time,” said Smith.

Ahead of this weekend, staff were prepped on recommending golf courses, restaurants and other attractions throughout the area. Plus, the bars and restaurants inside both hotels are fully reopened, with live entertainment nightly.

“We’re always pretty well prepared with what to expect for any event, but now more than ever it’s just one of those moments where you want to make sure your light is shining as bright as possible on that national level,” said Brandon Drusch, general manager at Saint Kate.

The level of national exposure generated by the NBA Playoffs is what it’s all about for Tim Dixon, owner of the Iron Horse Hotel. The 100-room hotel will be at 100% occupancy this weekend and has been for the past several weekends. That’s thanks to typical summertime tourism and a boost from the Bucks playoff run, said Dixon.

“The fact that we’re in the national spotlight makes us, in the long term, better,” he said. “Every weekend the Iron Horse is, post-pandemic, filled, but now it’s filled with people from somewhere else, who are experiencing Milwaukee. And that’s the impact.”

During the past two rounds of the playoffs, the Bucks have not only sold out the arena, which opened at full capacity (16,500 seats) last month, but they also have hosted tens of thousands of fans at outdoor watch parties. The Deer District has become the center of Bucks playoff excitement, drawing as many as 25,000 fans on game nights – home or away.

Millard Ellis, general manager at Home2 Suites by Hilton and Tru by Hilton, which opened late last year in Milwaukee’s East Town neighborhood, said guests have been booking rooms on away game nights, even during the week, to cheer on the Bucks at the Deer District.

“A prime example was last night when (the Bucks) were playing in Phoenix — we were about 50% on both hotels and what you saw were a lot of people came to be part of it in general. They’d go watch the game or go be apart of the Deer District,” said Ellis. “It’s a good feeling … everybody wants to be part of the history and what the Bucks are trying to do.”

Both hotels, making up 250 rooms total, are sold out on Saturday and expected to sell out on Sunday, with the majority of guests in town specifically for The Finals. The adjacent 116-room Holiday Inn Express is experiencing the same level of demand. And with increased occupancy at the three hotels, room rates are also beginning to climb back to post-pandemic levels, said Ellis.

Recent STR reports can back that up with upward trends in occupancy and average daily rate at downtown Milwaukee hotels. For the week of June 20 – 26, STR reported a 53.4% occupancy rate and $144.58 ADR (average daily rate). That was up from the previous week’s 48.2% occupancy and $135.73 ADR.

Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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