The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is in early stages of considering plans to move its performances to a concert hall that could be built for the MSO in The Couture, the 44-story residential and hotel tower planned by Barrett Visionary Development near the lakefront.
Barrett Visionary Development owner Rick Barrett approached the MSO about the idea a few months ago, said MSO president and executive director Mark Niehaus, who emphasized that the discussions are extremely preliminary.
“It’s so early (in the planning process),” Niehaus said. “We have not agreed to anything. We’re simply studying what a project like this would be for us.”
Currently, most MSO performances are held at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Milwaukee. But numerous scheduling conflicts at the Marcus Center force the MSO to play at various other venues for about 16 of its 39-week season, Niehaus said. Scheduling at the Marcus Center is particularly tough during December when the MSO is playing popular Christmas shows, but the Marcus Center is booked for the Milwaukee Ballet’s Nutcracker performances.
The MSO’s revenue drops significantly when it plays at venues other than the Marcus Center, Niehaus said.
“It’s not ideal to have to move your product all over town and expect your audience to follow you,” he said. “I have to pursue every opportunity to allow us to play more concerts for more people.”
Ideally the MSO would have its own venue to maximize its scheduling opportunities, Niehaus said. Other appropriate performances, such as jazz concerts, could also be held in the venue, he said.
“It would solve a major problem for their future,” Barrett said. “For us it would have an allure that is cutting-edge and would be something Milwaukee could be extremely proud of.”
No other existing facility in Milwaukee could be an adequate home for the MSO, Niehaus said. The Milwaukee Theater, for example, has a seating capacity of about 4,000 and is too large of a space for a symphony orchestra performance, he said.
A venue at The Couture likely would not replace the Marcus Center, Neihaus said. It would just become the new site for the MSO’s shows. Other groups would remain at the Marcus Center.
The MSO is the second major Milwaukee cultural institution that Barrett has approached for The Couture project. Barrett is also in talks with the Betty Brinn Children’s Museum, currently located at O’Donnell Park, about moving to a larger space in The Couture.
The Couture would be built southwest of Lincoln Memorial Drive and Michigan Street, at the site currently occupied by the Milwaukee County Downtown Transit Center. However, parks advocacy group Preserve Our Parks has objected to those plans saying private development at that site would violate the state’s public trust doctrine. Milwaukee County officials are planning legal action to establish development rights for the site.