Milwaukee World Festival Inc., the nonprofit that runs Summerfest, is planning to replace the Marcus Amphitheater and complete other major construction and renovation projects on the festival grounds within the next few years.
The Marcus Amphitheater is the largest stage at Henry Maier Festival Park, and seats 23,000. It opened in 1987 and cost $12 million to build.
“It has a certain useful life just like an arena or a ballpark,” Milwaukee World Festival president and chief executive officer Don Smiley said in an interview with BizTimes. “So yes, we’ve talked about it. We’ve talked about alternatives. We’ve talked about how it would be funded. That’s definitely in the future of this festival, to have a new amphitheater.”
Smiley also discussed improvement plans for the northern and central sections of the 75-acre Henry Maier Festival Grounds.
“There’s no specific timelines in place right now, but I would not rule out some construction projects that would help us celebrate the 50th anniversary of Summerfest,” Smiley said. “That’s about what I can say at this point. We are working on some things, but they’re confidential at this point and I can’t get into it.”
Milwaukee World Festival, which leases the festival grounds from the city through the board of harbor commissioners, has completed $65 million in improvements to its facilities since Smiley took over as CEO in June 2004, including a two-phase, $35 million construction project from 2010 to 2012 on the South Gate and box office, the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard stage and the waterfront BMO Harris Pavilion stage. That project also added buildings, restrooms and bars.
“We certainly have done a big job with the south gate and the Briggs stage,” Smiley said. “There’s other work to be done here. The amphitheater is going to be 30 years old; That’s on the south end and it needs to be rebuilt. There’s some work to do at the (middle) gate area and also on the north end. Our job is not done as far as improvements go and there are things that are on the drawing board which will happen in the very near future.”
Smiley did not describe specific details about the group’s plans for a new amphitheater, but he did say it would likely be around the same size as the Marcus Amphitheater in terms of seating.
“I think it’s a pretty good size: 18,000 seats plus 5,000 lawn seats,” he said. “When you have a big, huge, mega-superstar, they can sell all 23,000 seats. Not many can. On other nights, when you have 15-, 16-, 17,000 people, the house still looks dressed; it looks full. So if you make it too big, there’s not that many artists that can sell that many tickets.”
Summerfest 2016 runs from June 29 through July 10. The festival will be closed on July 4.