Milwaukee Rep provides theater complex project update

New renderings unveiled, fundraising update and project details provided

Main stage rendering from Eppstein Uhen Architects.
Main stage rendering from Eppstein Uhen Architects.

Last updated on December 6th, 2022 at 03:46 pm

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater today announced it has raised $43 million towards its $75 million “Powering Milwaukee Campaign” to build a new theater complex in place of its existing Patty & Jay Baker Theater Complex at 108 E. Wells St. in downtown Milwaukee. The Rep also unveiled new renderings and provided additional details about the project.

The expanded complex will include two entirely new theaters, said Chad Bauman, executive director of the Milwaukee Rep, during a leadership breakfast and campaign event held Tuesday at Northwestern Mutual. Also planned is an Education & Engagement Center, modern amenities for audiences and a transformed RiverWalk area for community gatherings.

“We will continue to be an economic driver for a growing downtown Milwaukee. And, of course, we will offer world-class theatrical experiences,” Bauman said. “We have done so much, but there is so much left to do. We welcome that challenge.”

The venue will remain operational during construction, which will begin once funds are raised.

The We Energies Foundation and Northwestern Mutual – the latter of which will name the RiverWalk Entrance to the Rep – each announced Tuesday $1.5 million donations to the project.

They join Associated Bank, which announced in September a 20-year, $10 million sponsorship of what will be named the Associated Bank Theater Center through 2042.

“By supporting our exceptional arts scene, we can make our great city even better,” said Steve Radke, president of the Northwestern Mutual Foundation. “This renovated theater and community space will continue to drive our rich, inclusive culture.”

Other donations include $2.5 million from the Haacks, co-chairs of the Powering Milwaukee Campaign and namesake of what will be the Sandra and William Haack Grand Lobby, and $5 million from a soon-to-be-named foundation in support of the Education & Engagement Center.

The Rep moved into the Patty & Jay Baker Theater Complex, which includes a former power generation plant, in 1987, and houses three theaters: the Quadracci Powerhouse, Stiemke Studio and the Stackner Cabaret, along with rehearsal facilities, production shops and administrative offices.

“They could no longer serve their purpose after decades of use,” Bauman said. “Now is time to chart our future.”

The Rep boasts 700 performances each year reaching 300,000 patrons – an annual economic impact of $30 million. But a report analyzing the complex indicated that the Rep has outgrown the facility, and that all major systems need replacement. Those systems are costing the Rep more than $1 million in annual maintenance fees, Tammy Belton Davis, co-chair of the campaign, said.

“With the exception of the historic facade, this complex will be reimagined inside and out,” said Rich Tennessen, president of Milwaukee-based Eppstein Uhen Architects, which is working with Brookfield-based Hunzinger Construction and Mequon-based construction industry management and advisory firm Chamberlin LLC, on the project.

The new mainstage theater, which would take the place of the Quadracci Powerhouse Theater, plans to seat 650 patrons – a reduced capacity allowing for bigger seats and unobstructed sight lines. Patrons with disabilities will have access to seats in the prime orchestra and on the ground floor.

Also planned are modernized production capabilities, including a fly loft to move large pieces of scenery, as well as advanced technology such as digital sound and programmable intelligent lighting.

Replacing the Stiemke Studio would be a black-box space for intimate dramatic productions that will allow for larger cast sizes and 240 patrons.

The Stackner Cabaret, which seats 186 patrons, will be slightly changed.

Uniting all three performance spaces will be the Sandra and William Haack Grand Lobby, with expanded restrooms, food and drink options, donors lounge and event space.

There is currently no classroom space for the nearly 20,000 students whose schools are partnered with the Rep for theater education. That would change with the Education & Engagement Center, which will relocate the production shop inhabiting the area to a different spot.

Outside the historic Oneida Street Station power plant would be the Northwestern Mutual RiverWalk, open for pre- and post-show gatherings.

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Lelah covers health care, insurance, nonprofit and education beats. She is a Marquette graduate. In her spare time, she enjoys live rock music, scary stories and tabletop games.

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