Milwaukee planning to extend streetcar to convention center prior to 2020 DNC

Alderman says work is expected to start this fall, finish by next June

The Hop

Last updated on June 20th, 2019 at 10:27 am

Milwaukee is planning to extend the Hop streetcar system to the Wisconsin Center, the city’s downtown convention center on Wisconsin Avenue, about a month prior to the start of the 2020 Democratic National Convention next July, according to a city alderman.

Alderman Robert Bauman, who is a proponent of the streetcar and whose district represents much of downtown, said he has been informed by the city’s Department of Public Works that they are currently working on the final design of the streetcar extension.

The department’s plan, he said, is to begin construction this fall. With an estimated construction schedule of 6-9 months, the work would finish by June 2020.

DPW commissioner Jeff Polesnke did not respond to requests for comment by Friday afternoon. A spokesman for Omaha, Neb.-based Kiewit Corp., the construction manager on the streetcar project, declined to comment.

The city has plans to extend the streetcar system up to the Fiserv Forum and eventually into the Bronzeville neighborhood. In reaching the new Bucks arena, the line extension would head north along Fifth Street and Vel R. Phillips Avenue, with a stop near the intersection of Vel R. Phillips Avenue and Wisconsin Avenue.

City leaders already set aside $20 million in tax increment financing to pay for part of the extension, which would extend the streetcar service from the Intermodal Station north to Wisconsin Avenue. The money was set aside to be used as a local match for federal funding that was to pay for the other half of project costs to fully extend the line to the arena. So far, the city has been unsuccessful in its bid to secure the federal funding.

However, the $20 million already allocated to the project could be used to at least extend the streetcar to Wisconsin Avenue and the convention center.

Additionally, the streetcar’s lakefront line is not fully complete. That extension includes a station at the planned 44-story Couture high-rise near Michigan Street and Lincoln Memorial Drive. Bauman said the lakefront line has been finished up to the point where the city is just waiting on the Couture to begin construction.

The national convention adds a sense of urgency to streetcar construction plans, Bauman said.

“I’d say there’s a huge sense of urgency because obviously the existence of the streetcar was a big deal” for the Democratic National Committee, said Bauman.

As part of the city’s agreement with the Democrats to host the national convention, the city is required to offer free streetcar service to convention-goers and the public during the days of the event. City leaders signed the agreement on Monday.

Bauman said that particular provision of the agreement came at the “eleventh hour” from a phone call from DNC chair Tom Perez directly to Mayor Tom Barrett.

A spokeswoman in Barrett’s office didn’t return a phone call requesting comment on the discussions surrounding the streetcar and the convention.

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Alex Zank, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.

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