Harmony Initiative plans to build near Marcus Center

The Harmony Initiative (a collaboration of the Milwaukee Ballet Company, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Peck School of the Arts and the Medical College of Wisconsin) is working on plans to develop a 90,000-square-foot building at the site of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts parking structure, located northwest of North Water Street and East State Street.

The members of the Harmony Initiative signed a non-binding letter of intent this week to build at that site, said Dennis Buehler, Milwaukee Ballet executive director.

Last year the Milwaukee Ballet Company announced the formation of the Harmony Initiative, and indicated that the collaboration was seeking a location in the Water Street corridor in downtown Milwaukee.

The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts has planned for years to do a mixed-use development on the parking structure site, but has been unable to put a project together.

The Ballet has several performances each year at the Marcus Center, so the parking structure site makes sense.

“It does have the ability to put an exclamation point on that entire arts district along Water Street,” Buehler said. “Certainly, it can have an exciting and dynamic presence at that corner.”

“It is a logical fit,” said Paul Mathews, president and chief executive officer for the Marcus Center. “It will create a much larger arts presence on Water Street, certainly. It will really transform Water Street.”

The Marcus Center plans to demolish its three-level, 700-space parking structure. The Harmony Initiative plans to build a 90,000-square-foot building at the corner of Water and State streets. On the reminder of the site, the Marcus Center plans to build a six-level, 1,250-space parking structure, attached to the Harmony Initiative building and connected to the Marcus Center via a new skywalk.

The new parking structure will have first floor retail space along Water Street, Mathews said.

The Harmony Initiative facility will provide space for the Ballet Company’s offices (which would move there from Walker’s Point), studios for the Ballet and its school, a small performance center with about 300 to 400 seats for small dance performances, and a sports clinic. The new location would replace the Ballet’s current headquarters at 504 W. National Ave. in the city’s Walker’s Point neighborhood.

Additional details, including a cost estimate, still have yet to be determined, Buehler said.

“There are still a lot of things we have to explore,” he said.

“This is just the first step,” Mathews said.

The Harmony Initiative will need to conduct a fundraising campaign for the project. The initiative hopes to complete the project and move in within 4-5 years, Buehler said.

La Dallman Architects Inc. is assembling a team to do the design work for the Harmony Initiative project. HGA is doing the design work for the new Marcus Center parking structure.

The Harmony Initiative facility at a high profile corner in downtown Milwaukee will increase the vitality of downtown and provide greater public exposure and visibility to the Ballet, its school and the UWM Peck School of the Arts, Buehler said.

The Marcus Center wants to build a larger parking structure to create a new revenue source and hopes to eventually be able to survive without an operating subsidy from financially strapped Milwaukee County, Mathews said. The county has provided an annual operating subsidy of $1.28 million for the last 6 years, which is expected to be cut to $1 million for next year, Mathews said. The county’s subsidy covers about 27 percent of the Marcus Center’s annual operating costs, he said.

The Marcus Center parking structure is routinely filled during the work week and often does not have enough spaces to accommodate performance attendees on nights and weekends, Mathews said.

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