Sports driving numerous construction projects across Wisconsin

Real Estate


On Nov. 16, the Milwaukee Bucks unveiled their latest round of renderings – this time, for the much anticipated Live Block development – reminding us again that the $524 million arena project is much more than just a sports

The Bucks are creating a mixed-use entertainment district on 30 acres of what is now mostly vacant land in the city’s Park East Corridor. Once it’s complete, the team will have a new arena and the city will have new restaurants, residential and office space in what had for years been a desolate area.

The arena project is partially taxpayer funded, and has been controversial. But the Bucks say it will anchor a billion dollar development district.

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A similar thing is happening in Green Bay, where the Packers are doing a mixed-use development adjacent to Lambeau Field.

Called the Titletown District, it is being developed on 34 acres immediately west of the stadium. Titletown District’s central feature will be a park that will include a 300-foot-long sledding hill. Commercial and residential development will surround the park. Key tenants in the Titletown District will include Lodge Kohler, a hotel being built and managed by Kohler Co., a 30,000 square-foot Bellin Health sports medicine clinic and a 20,000-square-foot Hinterland restaurant and brewery.

Rendering of Titletown District.
Rendering of Titletown District.

While the Bucks and Packers development projects are getting most of the attention, several other sports-related real estate projects are happening in the state.

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Milwaukee attorney Martin Greenberg, who specializes in real estate and sports law, said sports communities have become a centerpiece for development.

“Sports facilities are not only a place where people go to see games, it is a place where they live, where they socialize, where they shop, eat and even learn,” Greenberg said. “Wisconsin is having monumental economic development with the Bucks arena and Titletown.”

Greenberg also pointed to the Ballpark Commons mixed-use development at The Rock Sports Complex in Franklin as an example of what can be done to enhance sports venues to make them year-round destinations.

Mike Zimmerman, owner of The Rock, and Milwaukee-based WiRED Properties are working on the $120 million Ballpark Commons project at 7900 Crystal Ridge Drive. The project encompasses more than 200 acres of land, including the existing Rock Sports Complex, and will include a minor league baseball stadium, an indoor sports complex, apartments and retail stores.

Rendering of The Rock sports complex in Franklin.
Rendering of The Rock sports complex in Franklin.

The plan includes a 4,000-seat ballpark intended for an independent minor league professional baseball franchise. It also would serve as the home field for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers baseball program. The complex would also have an indoor sports facility to accommodate four youth-sized baseball fields. The fields also could host other sports, such as soccer or lacrosse. Mixed-use buildings with retail, apartments and office also are planned.

“Millennials want to live close to where the action is. Sports provide the action,” Greenberg said. “It’s hard to make financial sense with just a baseball field, so a developer has to do something to get the city to put in financing for the improvements. It’s the same concept as the Bucks, but through a smaller scale. It can be done with the minor leagues and for colleges.”

In Racine, the city and county are mulling plans for a $40 million, 3,800-seat arena that could host a junior hockey team and potentially, the planned Milwaukee Bucks NBA Development League team. The arena would adjoin 135-room hotel.

The Bucks have considered three cities for their D-League team: Racine, Sheboygan and Oshkosh. A decision is expected soon, but had not been announced as of press time.

Racine Mayor John Dickert says the arena project in that city does not depend on Racine getting the Bucks D-League team. A United States Hockey League team could be the Racine arena’s anchor tenant.

A study done earlier this summer found an arena would draw more people to downtown Racine, but did not establish who would pay for it and officials have not announced a funding plan.

Several projects are improving existing sports venues in the state, for fans and for the athletes.

The Milwaukee Brewers are planning a $20 million, stadium-wide overhaul of concession areas and bars throughout Miller Park. The project is the most expensive upgrade to the park since it opened in 2001, and is expected to be completed in time for the Brewers’ home opener on April 3, 2017.

When the Milwaukee Admirals signed a 10-year lease to play their games at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena in downtown Milwaukee, beginning this season, the Wisconsin Center District agreed to a $6.3 million renovation project to make numerous improvements at the 66-year-old facility. The district paid for $4.3 million and the Admirals paid for $2 million of the project.

Some universities in the state also are planning new sports facilities.

Marquette University plans to build a $120 million Athletic Performance Research Center on a 12-acre site along West Michigan Street in downtown Milwaukee.

The 250,000- to 300,000-square-foot building will include a field house and laboratories and will be used by Marquette, Aurora Health Care and the Bucks.

Marquette also plans to build a $3.6 million seasonal dome over a portion of its Valley Fields facility at 1818 W. Canal St. in Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley, to provide practice and training facilities for intercollegiate athletes, as well as club and intramural participants.

Lakeland University, a liberal arts college in Sheboygan County, recently unveiled plans for a $2.8 million multipurpose athletic field, which will host the school’s football, soccer and lacrosse teams. The stadium, which will replace Lakeland’s Taylor Field, will have artificial turf, lights, bleachers and a press box, and is expected to be completed in time for the fall 2017 sports season.

Rendering of new sports facility at Lakeland University.
Rendering of new sports facility at Lakeland University.

University of Wisconsin-Green Bay also recently received approval for a new soccer complex. The $5 million facility will have a turf field with lights and a press box and is expected to be ready for the 2018 season.

Universities invest in athletics in part because of the branding sports provides them, said Mark Eppli, professor of finance and Bell Chair of Real Estate at Marquette.

“Look at Marquette. We are part of the Big East, which includes Georgetown, DePaul, Villanova, Seton Hall and St. John’s. Those are student rich areas (in Chicago and on the East Coast) and we want to get our names out in those communities,” Eppli said. “It’s about branding the institution, and you don’t want to brand with a (terrible) team.”

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