FPC Live's announcement Monday that it will move forward with its proposed indoor music venue project at the former Bradley Center site in the Deer District instead of near the Summerfest grounds in the Historic Third Ward was the result of several years of conversations with the Milwaukee Bucks, company execs say.
The concert promoter, an affiliate of Madison-based Frank Productions (which is majority owned by Live Nation, the world's largest concert promoter), had multiple sites in downtown Milwaukee under consideration for the proposed two-venue complex, even in the months after plans were officially announced to build it on a surface lot near the Summerfest grounds.
On May 13, FPC Live announced it was dropping its plans for the site near the Summerfest grounds, after facing opposition from Third Ward neighbors, and others, and was seeking other sites for the project.
Back-up site options for the complex included the former Bradley Center site as well as a site just northeast of the Marquette Interchange, where Grafton-based Kacmarcik Enterprises and Kenosha-based Bear Development recently announced plans to create a mixed-use development with an 8,000-seat soccer stadium and an indoor concert venue to be operated by Milwaukee-based Pabst Theater Group and a yet-to-be named partner.
Following Monday's press conference announcing the new site for the FPC Live complex, BizTimes Milwaukee associate editor Maredithe Meyer sat down with Joel Plant, chief executive officer at Frank Productions, and Charlie Goldstone, president of FPC Live, to discuss what led to their new joint venture with the Bucks and why Milwaukee needs more concert venues.
BizTimes: It hasn't been two weeks since FPC Live announced it had dropped plans to develop the venue near the Summerfest grounds. How did this deal with the Bucks ultimately come together?Joel Plant: "The short version is when you begin to pursue a project like this, you've got to have alternatives, and as we worked through the options and ruled out some parcels and kept a short list of prime parcels, (the former Bradley Center site) has always been on the list. So, as we announced in early December with the Milwaukee World Festival site, which is still an excellent redevelopment site and certainly could hold a venue like the one we proposed, and when we decided mutually with MWF to not pursue that site anymore, we were pretty far down the path in conversation with a few other sites. So it wasn't like we were starting from scratch a couple weeks ago. We started talking with a variety of landowners back in 2019, so well before anyone had even heard of COVID-19."BizTimes: Why this site?
[caption id="attachment_549437" align="alignright" width="768"] Eppstein Uhen Architects rendering.[/caption]
Charlie Goldstone: "This was always an ideal site for us, and there’s a bunch of reasons for that. Namely, its a natural place for entertainment because of Fiserv Forum and the investment the Bucks have made in the Deer District. In the first year that Fiserv Forum was open, they had more arena concerts than any single year in Milwaukee’s history. We did most of those shows, so we were already driving hundreds of thousands of concert fans to this site."And because the Bucks are such great partners, everybody works together here. So, if you go into The Mecca or Punch Bowl Social, they're promoting the concerts we have and the watch parties or anything having to do with the Bucks, so we’re all helping each other which is something that is truly unique to have businesses all feeding off each other, helping each other. It just creates for a vibrant atmosphere and it makes everybody more successful. The key in any big development or investment like this is partnerships, and we have great ones right here."Plant: "We’ve been focused on building partnerships for almost 60 years. Well before Charlie and I were born, this company has been focused on finding the ideal partnerships, cultivating and building upon those, and we've continued that practice with the Bucks. ... And we have an incredible and growing partnership with Milwaukee World Festivals."Goldstone: "That (Third Ward) site is still great and we believe that site would have been great, but we went through an honest public process and decided to move off it, but our relationship and partnership with Milwaukee World Festivals is great and continues to grow. We’ve got more amphitheater shows this summer with them than has happened in almost 20 years and that's because both of our organizations had something to bring to the table and the results speak for themselves."BizTimes: How much did the public backlash to the Third Ward plans play into your decision to move sites? Plant: "There were a variety of factors at play, and there’s not one reason for any of these big decisions in a development project like this, but as I've mentioned, we never gave up on alternative sites given the way that public announcements, public vetting and public discourse happened - as it should in a big city with big development projects. There was not one single reason, it was a mutual decision by us and by Milwaukee World Festivals, and our relationship with them is yielding incredible benefits for music fans."BizTimes: Are you concerned about sharing the market with another indoor music venue planned just blocks from here? Goldstone: "We've been public about our plans since December, and we’ve been working on it privately for several years. We believe in our project, and it's clear that a lot of other people and a lot of other stakeholders in town and out of of town also believe that Milwaukee needs new venues. The fact that everybody agrees on that is a good thing. We know that our project is the best. We got the best team to do it; we got the best partners to do it. We’re excited about it."Plant: "That site (where Kacmarcik Enterprises and Bear Development are now planning to develop a sports and entertainment district) was one of our alternative sites. We were offered that site multiple times, and we chose the best site."Goldstone: "They came to us first, and ultimately, we decided that this is where we wanted to go."Plant: "And both conversations don't go back weeks, they go back more than a year."BizTimes: What are your thoughts on the issue of safety and security going into this project, especially in light of the recent shootings near the Deer District? Plant: "Safety is paramount. It's the first and last thing that we think about. It's a concern we pay attention to at all of our shows and all of our venues every day all across the country. The antidote to risk is planning, so a designed, well-planned, well-built, well-managed facility or any space if you do it well from the beginning, you squeeze out most of the risk regardless of the type of operation you have. That said, in all of our operations, we build partnerships with local communities, we use the best technology we can to prevent problems from occurring, whether its crime or disorder or even the fear of crime or disorder. Certainly a concern - always has been, always will be because as placemakers, its our responsibility to make event spaces as fun and as safe as we can make them.
"More importantly, another antidote to public crime and disorder is heavily activated spaces, so having a lot of people active in a space is good, it's healthy, it creates joy, it creates fun and satisfaction."
BizTimes: How will this new venue impact the existing live music scene in Milwaukee?Goldstone: "It's going to increase the amount of live music shows at all levels and all rooms in Milwaukee, and that's really what this is about. It's a cliche, but a rising tide raises all ships. Once artists begin to view Milwaukee in a certain light, word gets out and then everybody wants to play here. Milwaukee already gets a lot of great shows, don't get me wrong. But we're a national company and we operate nationally so we know what's going on in other cities, and all these other cities in the Midwest - St. Louis, Minneapolis and Cleveland - are investing in new facilities to attract artists. When an artist goes on tour, they can't play every city, they don't have the time to do it. So we're constantly flying to meetings, making phone calls and going everywhere we can, waving the flag and trying to attract artists to Milwaukee. The best way we can do that, in addition to having fans that want to come to the shows, is to offer them the best facility, not only where they will enjoy themselves and present their show in the way they want, but also where fans will enjoy themselves more. It'll be a great experience for them, which will help sell more tickets and keep people coming back."
BizTimes: What do you say to those who are concerned that your new venue will create too much competition with existing venues? Goldstone: "Competition is a natural part of any industry in any city. Entertainment dollars compete with other entertainment dollars in the city. The existing venues right now and the existing shows compete with pro basketball, pro baseball, Broadway shows, etc. There's competition everywhere. That's not an excuse not to be forward thinking and not to make investments and take risks and keep pushing because the moment that we as a city stop doing that, and say what we got is enough, we can't do any better, that's when we go backwards. We can't just tread water, we've got to forward, and grow it so we stay on the forefront of our industry."