Deer District concert venue complex gets backing from city zoning committee

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FPC Live’s $50 million concert venue complex proposed for the Deer District in downtown Milwaukee was endorsed Tuesday by the city’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee.

It was the second government hurdle the project has cleared, despite strong opposition from existing Milwaukee concert venue operators and other community groups.

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. If approved, the project would break ground this fall for an early 2024 completion. 

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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 Tuesday. The members of the committee are: Ald. Michael Murphy, Ald. Robert Bauman, Ald. Jose Perez, Ald. Marina Dimitrijevic and Ald. Russell Stamper.

In response to the design concerns expressed at the Plan Commission meeting, the developers revised the project by moving the building 37 feet to the east and adding glazing material to the east façade.

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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Supporters of the project say it will have a positive impact on the downtown economy, workforce, tourism industry and live music scene. Those who were present at Tuesday’s hearing included Peter Rickman of Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Union and Dan Bukiewicz, president of the Milwaukee Building & Construction Trades Council. Those two organizations recently signed labor agreements with FPC Live for the construction and operations of the venue complex. Other supporters included local restauranteur Omar Shaikh; Clifton Phelps, VP of business development of Milwaukee-based JCP Construction; Jeremy Fojut, co-founder of Newaukee; and a spokesperson from the Madison visitors bureau.

Following public discussion, Bauman, who is vice chair of the ZND, acknowledged that issues of competition and antitrust are not for the city to sort out.

“My position remains, as we pointed out previously, 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,” said Bauman.

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He said the project checks all the boxes of what the committee would typically consider in a detailed planned development.

“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 agreed to follow the core resolution. They’ve hired a minority contractor as a major participant in the construction,” said Bauman. “… 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, which is act in the best interest of the city, growing its tax base and growing its economy.”

The project will now head to the Common Council for final review.

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