Milwaukee Public Museum to move to new downtown location

Museum leaders planning relocation in next five to 10 years

Milwaukee Public Museum
The Milwaukee Public Museum.

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:13 pm

Rather than renovate its current location at 800 W. Wells St. in downtown Milwaukee, Milwaukee Public Museum leadership has decided to move the museum to a new downtown location in the next five to 10 years, according to MPM president and chief executive officer Dennis Kois.

However, museum spokesperson Jenni Tetzlaff said the museum does not have any specific plans for a new location in place, or an official cost estimate for the project.

Construction of the museum’s current building began in 1960 and was completed in 1962. The 55-year-old facility has deteriorated and the museum needs to either upgrade the facility or move to a new facility to maintain its accreditation, according to Kois.

In a BizTimes article published in April 2016, Kois said the museum was engaged in a study to determine whether it would be better financially to renovate the museum’s current home or move into a new location downtown. At the time, Kois said building a new facility would likely cost more than $100 million.

“Just like a college or a hospital, museums are accredited,” Kois said in 2016. “Our accreditation is up for renewal in 2020, and that process starts in 2018. We know for a fact — I’ve visited other museums for the American Alliance of Museums and accredited them — that there’s no scenario in which the (current) museum (building) will be able to be re-accredited unless we address its infrastructure.”

In addition, the MPM announced in a statement released Tuesday afternoon it will eliminate 15 staff positions as part of a “staffing restructure” to “strengthen the financial position of the museum and prepare it for changes ahead.”

Milwaukee Public Museum
The Milwaukee Public Museum.

The cuts will affect senior management positions as well as front-line staff.

A museum spokesperson said “a handful” of positions will be added throughout the year as part of the restructuring, but there will not be enough positions added to offset the 15 eliminated positions.

The new positions will be added in three areas over the next year: collections digitization, collections and research, and digital media design.

The MPM employed 141 staff members prior to the cuts.

“In order to secure MPM’s future, we must ensure we are fiscally sustainable in the here and now,” said Kois in a statement. “That is particularly important given that our endowment is very small relative to other museums our size. While MPM has been having great success recently—with attendance, revenue, membership and fundraising all up from 2014 to present—we must ensure we have the resources needed to invest in our future.”

The cuts come during a period of time in which the museum has enjoyed a boost in overall attendance, fundraising and revenue. Since 2014, the MPM has had a 33 percent increase in overall attendance, a 38 percent increase in admission revenue, a 38 percent increase in membership revenue and a 41 percent increase in retail revenue.

But Kois said “future needs,” specifically the costs associated with finding and building a new location for the museum, are forcing the museum to restructure staffing and expenses.

“MPM has acknowledged publicly that leadership has been investigating whether to construct a new museum building downtown to replace the failing, (55)-year-old county-owned building MPM currently occupies,” the MPM statement read. “That evaluation has been underway for the past two years and has involved Gallagher & Associates, a museum consultancy in Washington, DC, along with extensive community input.”

With that evaluation complete, museum officials have decided to begin planning to move to a new facility.

According to budget statistics released by museum representatives, staff salaries and benefits accounted for 57 percent of the museum’s total expenses. Total staff compensation expenses increased from $13.65 million to $14.27 million from 2014 to 2016.

Kois and the museum’s multiple vice presidents said they have volunteered to take pay cuts.

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Ben Stanley
Ben Stanley, former BizTimes Milwaukee reporter.