The Underground Collaborative, a creative arts center located in the basement of the Shops of Grand Avenue in downtown Milwaukee, is adding more live entertainment, food and alcohol to its line-up in the hopes of attracting more people to its space.
[caption id="attachment_129658" align="alignright" width="373"] The Shops of Grand Avenue.[/caption]
The group was founded in 2012, and has leased 8,000 square feet in the lower level of the mall, below the TJ Maxx store at 161 W. Wisconsin Ave., as a creative space for artists. The space includes an art gallery, recording studio, administrative offices and a theater that seats 100 people. Until now, live performances were put on about once a month.
Matthew Kemple, one of the founders of the Underground Collaborative, said over the years, the group’s business model has changed and now it is at the point where he wants to focus on bigger shows.
He’s hoping to put on shows every weekend including stand-up comedy, theater, poetry and music. He has also applied for a liquor license with the city of Milwaukee.
“We’ve been down there for four years, but not a lot of people know about us,” Kemple said. “We’re not looking to open a bar, but with comedy and theater, alcohol is usually a component. We’re hoping to be able to offer it as soon as the city says OK.”
Kemple, 36, of Wauwatosa, is well-known in entertainment circles. He is the founder of the Milwaukee Comedy Festival at the Next Act Theater, which celebrated its 10th year in August. He said he has been working with Grand Avenue management on expanding the scope of the Underground Collaborative for more than a year.
Kemple has not yet met the new Grand Avenue ownership team, who purchased the mall in December, but said he is optimistic about their goals for the mall.
“I’ve been there four years and had three owners in that time – this is the first time I’ve actually noticed a big difference,” he said. “It’s things on the back end, the maintenance crew is fixing things that have been broken for years. They’ve changed the lighting in the mall, so it’s a lot brighter. Little changes have had a huge impact on me and my business.”
Last month the new owners said they were assembling a development team and would be releasing a vision for the struggling mall this spring. Ideas include creating a “Public Market 2.0,” that would focus on craft breweries. Other ideas include converting a portion of the mall near Stone Creek Coffee into an indoor/outdoor area and also opening up more of the mall along Wisconsin Avenue.
Kemple believes his business fits with the direction the new owners want to take the mall.
Mall owners, Chuck Biller, managing director with Aggero Group, and Joshua Krsnak, president of Minneapolis-based Hempel Cos., could not immediately be reached for contact.
“I take everything with a grain of salt, because I’ve been through this before, but this feels very positive,” Kemple said. “I’m very excited about the future of this mall.”