Milwaukee convention center operator further trims staff to make up for lost business

Staff cuts saving Wisconsin Center District $470,000

A police checkpoint outside the security perimeter around the Wisconsin Center.

Last updated on September 21st, 2020 at 10:51 am

The Wisconsin Center District has eliminated more staff and trimmed back the hours of others still on the payroll to partly make up for the big losses the district is seeing due to the COVID-19 pandemic and mass cancellation of events.

WCD operates downtown Milwaukee’s convention center, the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena and Miller High Life Theatre. It also owns Fiserv Forum, where the Milwaukee Bucks are master leaseholders. The facilities have been essentially shuttered since spring, as health officials have advised people against gathering in large groups in order to prevent spread of infection.

One way the WCD has made up for a small portion of those losses is by laying off workers and slashing the pay of others. Marty Brooks, WCD president and chief executive officer, said the district is down to 49 employees, with 30 of those working reduced hours. The cuts will save WCD approximately $470,000 for the remainder of the year.

WCD had employed 80 people before the pandemic halted business. Staff size initially went down to 76, Brooks said, but has in ensuing months shrank to less than 50.

Brooks said some of the remaining employees are now working only four days a week, and taking home 20% less in pay. Some others are still working their regular hours but receiving paychecks that are 10% lighter.

Brooks relayed these numbers to the WCD Board of Directors on Friday morning.

Steve Marsh, WCD chief financial officer, told board members the district expects to end 2020 with a loss of $2.6 million. However, due to a restructuring of debt earlier in the year, WCD will be able to keep current on debt service payments for the time being, he said.

WCD is also expecting there to be no sporting events for the remainder of the year in its facilities. Marsh said it has not gotten official confirmation of that fact from tenants, such as the Bucks, Marquette, UWM and Milwaukee Admirals, but it is making those assumptions to be conservative with financial planning.

Perhaps one of the last conventions of the year for the Wisconsin Center was the Democratic National Convention in August. But even that convention, which originally was expected to draw 50,000 visitors to Milwaukee, was greatly reduced after party leaders decided to move things virtual.

Even so, Brooks applauded WCD staffers for pulling off what remained of the physical component of the DNC.

“I’m very proud of the way WCD staff executed the unconventional convention,” he said.

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Alex Zank
Alex Zank covers commercial and residential real estate for BizTimes. Alex previously worked for Farm Equipment magazine and also covered statewide construction news at The Daily Reporter. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he studied journalism, political science and economics. Having grown up in rural western Wisconsin, Alex loves all things outdoors, including camping, hiking, four-wheeling and hunting.

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