Milwaukee Rep plans to build new $75 million theater complex

Associated Bank announces 20-year, $10 million sponsorship

Rendering of the entrance to the Associated Bank Theater Center.

Last updated on September 26th, 2022 at 03:43 pm

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater plans to build a new $75 million theater complex to replace its Patty & Jay Barker Theater Complex at 108 E. Wells St. in downtown Milwaukee. The Rep hopes to break ground on the project in late 2023.

Like the Patty & Jay Barker Theater Complex, the new complex will be attached to the 28-story Associated Bank River Center office tower. Associated Bank today announced a 20-year, $10 million sponsorship of the Milwaukee Rep’s new theater complex, which will be named the Associated Bank Theater Center through 2042.

“Milwaukee Rep has been a cornerstone of Milwaukee’s cultural heritage for nearly 70 years. We couldn’t be more proud to provide this enduring commitment to their mission and to making Milwaukee a more vibrant place to live and work,” said Andy Harmening, president and chief executive officer of Associated Bank.

In February of 2020, the Milwaukee Rep said it was planning a 30,000-square-foot expansion and renovation of the Patty & Jay Barker Theater Complex. A report analyzing the complex indicated that The Rep has outgrown the facility and that infrastructure upgrades were needed. The Rep moved into the complex, which includes a redeveloped former power generation plant, in 1987. The Rep’s complex houses three theaters: the Quadracci Powerhouse, Stiemke Studio and the Stackner Cabaret; along with rehearsal facilities, production shops and administrative offices.

But now the Milwaukee Rep is planning to build a new complex in its place. According to a news release, its board of trustees have “unanimously approved plans to remain at its current location and build an entirely new, expanded complex with state-of-the-art theaters, abundant community gathering spaces, an education center to expand student programming, and modern audience amenities.”

As part of the project, all three of The Rep’s theaters will be renovated so they are compatible with theaters across the U.S., which will allow The Rep to tour productions.

“Within the historic building itself, everything inside of the building will be basically completely redone,” said Chad Bauman, executive director of Milwaukee Rep. “The four walls will remain standing, but everything else will be redone.”

The Rep will also build a new glass entryway structure along Wells Street to welcome visitors into its main entrance.

Associated Bank is among “hundreds of community leaders, corporations and foundations” that have made pledges to support the project, according to the news release.

Milwaukee Rep says it has completed concept designs, budgeting and planning for the project, working with Milwaukee-based Eppstein Uhen Architects, Brookfield-based Hunzinger Construction and Mequon-based construction industry management and advisory firm Chamberlin LLC.

More information about the project will be announced by Milwaukee Rep in the coming months, according to the release. Updates renderings are expected later this year.

Milwaukee Rep attracts more than 300,000 people annually to its performances.

“Theater has changed since we moved into our current home in the 1980s — and so has our community. While it has served us well for four decades, our aging and inefficient complex limits the productions we stage, the plays we develop, and the kind of educational impact we create,” Bauman said. “With a new theater complex, Milwaukee Rep will ensure world-class theater remains in the heart of downtown Milwaukee for decades to come. Associated Bank’s support of our campaign is critical to our success, and we are proud that our new complex will be named for a company that gives so much to Milwaukee.”

Associated Bank has made several improvements to the 28-story office building, formerly known as the Milwaukee Center and located at 111 E. Kilbourn Ave., since buying it for $60.5 million in 2016, including a complete remodel of the first floor and replacement of elevators and escalators. Earlier this year, it opened the Associated Bank Center for Professional Development on the building’s third floor. Recently it announced plans to add a riverfront bar, coffee shop and a marketplace of quick-service dining concepts.

Associated Bank recently indicated that the Associated Bank RiverCenter building is nearly 80% occupied.

In addition to the Patty & Jay Barker Theater Complex the office tower is also connected to Associated Bank’s private client services building, Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel and The Pabst Theater, located directly across from the Milwaukee Rep complex. All of those entities are connected by a central rotunda and are located on the downtown block bounded by Water Street on the east, Kilbourn Avenue on the north, the Milwaukee River on the west and Wells Street to the south.

BizTimes Milwaukee reporter Ashley Smart contributed to this report.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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