Pabst Theater Group to take over operations at Miller High Life Theatre

Miller High Life Theatre
Miller High Life Theatre

Last updated on March 23rd, 2022 at 09:57 am

The Pabst Theater Group announced Friday that it will take over booking and operations at the Miller High Life Theatre in downtown Milwaukee, under a five-year agreement with the Wisconsin Center District.

Milwaukee-based PTG will serve as the exclusive booker and operator for public, ticketed entertainment events at the 4,087-seat venue, located at 500 W. Kilbourn Ave. Exclusive booking rights are effective immediately, while the transition of full operations will take place by July 31.

The agreement aims to increase event activity at the Miller High Life Theatre without compromising WCD’s efforts “to maximize the space for our core meetings and conventions business,” said Marty Brooks, president and CEO of WCD in a statement.

All current Miller High Life Theatre bookings will be honored as outlined in the agreement. WCD, which has operated the venue for the past 20-plus years, will retain naming rights and sponsorship opportunities and rights to book the Miller High Life Theatre for meetings and conventions business, according to a news release.

“Our goal for the Miller High Life Theatre is to maximize activity,” said Brooks. “We have been talking with a variety of promoters for years, and now is the right time as demand for live-events ramps up and we focus on the continued progress of convention center expansion, set for completion in early 2024.

Construction on the Wisconsin Center‘s $420 million expansion officially broke ground in late October. The project is expected to boost local tourism business and sharpen Milwaukee’s competitive edge in attracting large-scale conventions.

The Miller High Life Theater joins the Pabst Theater, Riverside Theater, Turner Hall Ballroom and The Backroom at Colectivo under the PTG umbrella. The group hosts nearly 700 shows and events annually at its own venues as well as Fiserv Forum, UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena and Bradley Symphony Center.

The Pabst Theater Group employs a total of 350 full and part-time staff.

“Part of our mission as an almost 20-year old Milwaukee company is to make sure that the city around us thrives,” said Gary Witt, president and CEO of PTG. “And with that, the common goal in our agreement with our friends at the Wisconsin Center District is as we have done in the past with each of the venues that are now a part of the Pabst Theater Group, to reawaken and help to give a soul and identity to another historic and beautiful venue, the Miller High Life Theatre.”

WCD’s board of directors approved the agreement as plans for a new indoor music venue are underway in the Historic Third Ward. Madison-based promoter and venue operator FPC Live wants to develop a two-venue facility on a surface lot west of the Summerfest grounds. The project’s two venues — one with a scalable capacity of up to 800 people and the other with a scalable capacity of up to 4,000 — will host concerts and events year-round.

Later, in an interview with BizTimes Milwaukee, PTG talent buyer Matt Beringer said Miller High Life Theater heightens the company’s “developmental ladder,” which starts with the 300-capacity Back Room at Colectivo and, up until now, has capped off at the 2,480-seat Riverside Theater.

“What we’re doing is building artists’ careers throughout the market place, we’re building fan relationships throughout the market place and we’re doing it every step along the way. … Now, (the Miller High Life Theater) becomes part of that ecosystem that we’re providing for artists and fans,” said Beringer.

It’s also an opportunity for PTG to draw artists that have overlooked the Milwaukee market or bring back those that have outgrown it, he added.

Witt pointed to singer-songwriter Mitski as an example of an artist who has gradually moved up PTG’s ladder. She sold out the Back Room in 2018. Four years later, she sold out her March 15 concert at The Riverside the first day tickets went on sale. In response to high demand, PTG moved the show to the larger Miller High Life Theater, and that venue quickly sold out as well.

Unlike operators in larger markets like Minneapolis, Chicago, Boston or San Fransisco, said Witt, PTG has to “fight” to bring artists here.

“The nature of having the investment of the buildings that we have allows us to be able to maintain a relationship with the artists as they grow up through the buildings, including an artist like Brandy Carlisle who played Turner Hall, Past Theater, The Riverside, and now we’re doing a show over at Fiserv Forum,” he said.

While the 4,000-seat Miller High Life Theater and Frank Productions’ proposed 4,000-capacity concert hall are comparable in numbers, Witt was quick to point out that the two venues would have their differences. For starters, the proposed venue offers general admission standing-room whereas Miller High Life is seated. And that format is better suited to a segment that’s grown into 30% of PTG’s business: live comedy.

“Our focus is our business, it’s not their business,” said Witt.

Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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