Milwaukee Convention Center expansion would cost $225 to $275 million

Wisconsin Center District has $200 million to pay for it

Wisconsin Center
The Wisconsin Center

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 10:57 am

Is $200 million enough to expand and improve the Milwaukee Convention Center?

That is the question the Wisconsin Center District is going to be asking over the next several months as the group decides if it should move forward with expansion plans for its event center.

Wisconsin Center
The Wisconsin Center.

In September, a study by Tampa, Florida-based Crossroad Consulting found the convention center’s exhibit hall space should be expanded to 300,000 square feet.

The study also recommended meeting space be doubled and an additional 15,000 to 20,000 square feet of ballroom space be added. The existing building should be modernized as well.

The estimated cost is $225 million to $275 million. But the Wisconsin Center District is only able to borrow up to $200 million for the project, according to a study by Baird.

The group, which owns and operates the Wisconsin Center convention center, the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena and the Milwaukee Theatre and eventually the Bucks arena, will have to decide if a $200 million expansion center is worth the cost and will get the city where it wants to be in order to compete with other cities for conventions.

The current convention center, which was built in 1998, is 266,000 square feet, with about 189,000 square feet of exhibit space. By comparison, Cincinnati has 196,800 square feet of exhibit space at its convention center; Columbus has 373,000 square feet; Minneapolis has 475,000 square feet; and Indianapolis has two convention venues totaling 749,000 square feet of exhibit space.

Susan Sieger, president of Crossroad Consulting, estimates events at the convention center would increase from 111 a year to 140 to 165 if the facility was expanded.

Attendance would increase from 269,000 to 376,000 to 422,000. The expansion, that Crossroads is recommending, would add about $1.5 million to the district’s revenue, Sieger said.

Scott Neitzel, the secretary of Gov. Scott Walker’s Department of Administration and chairman of the district board suggested asking architectural firms work with the district board to determine what a $200 million and $225 million expansion would look like.

Neitzel said he would like to have more information by January.

State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin, who is on the district board, agreed, but added now is the time to move forward with expansion.

“There is momentum downtown and we need to do this now,” Sanfelippo said. “There are other (payment) options and we need to get a firmer hold of what we can do. We have to consider all of our operations costs including how we fund VISIT Milwaukee and other non-restricted revenue.”

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