Commentary: Milwaukee’s time to shine

Last updated on June 18th, 2019 at 12:09 pm

If you’re a Gen Xer, like me, or younger, you don’t remember Milwaukee’s glory days as an industrial powerhouse.

We have to read about that era in John Gurda’s book, “The Making of Milwaukee,” and wonder what the city was like back then.

Ever since Pabst, Schlitz, Allis-Chalmers, and many other major manufacturers either moved out of Milwaukee or went out of business, the city has struggled for decades to transform its economy for a new era. Other regions, especially on the coasts and in the Sun Belt, have boomed while the Milwaukee area has seen sluggish growth for decades.

But finally, it appears Milwaukee is making a comeback. Milwaukee still has significant problems, especially with central city crime and poverty, but in recent years the city has gained new momentum. Downtown and some nearby neighborhoods have boomed with new development as millennials and empty nesters have moved to new housing developments, embracing the urban lifestyle. Several businesses have moved downtown. Northwestern Mutual expanded its downtown presence with a new $450 million office tower. The city’s restaurant scene has exploded. The new $524 million Fiserv Forum has been packed night after night since its opening.

And then we find out…the circus is coming to town. The 2020 Democratic National Convention will be held in Milwaukee. It will be the first time the city has ever hosted a major political convention. It will be one of the biggest, if not the biggest, events in Milwaukee’s history. About 50,000 people are expected to come for the DNC, making an estimated $200 million economic impact.

Even bigger for Milwaukee will be the national and international media attention the city will get during the DNC. Milwaukee will truly be in the spotlight.

Some Americans were surprised when they heard that Milwaukee was selected over Miami and Houston to host the DNC. Those are much larger cities that are more accustomed to hosting huge events like this. There has been considerable debate about whether or not Milwaukee can handle this event. A frequently cited concern is the number of hotel rooms in the area, which met the DNC requirement but is far less than the hotel inventory in cities like Miami or Houston.

Led by Alex Lasry of Milwaukee Bucks Inc., the group that worked to bring the DNC to Milwaukee deserves kudos. Now they need to work ever harder to pull it off and show the world that Milwaukee is indeed a big time city, deserving and capable of hosting major events. They need to raise millions of dollars, attract thousands of volunteers and make sure all of the logistics are taken care of and everything runs smoothly.

With the spotlight on Milwaukee, it will be unique opportunity to change the city’s image and tells its story as a great place to live, work and play.

The DNC will truly be Milwaukee’s opportunity to shine, and we need to take full advantage of it.

Andrew Weiland is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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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.