Think summer…fest!


I’ve lived in Wisconsin all of my life, but have never gotten used to winter. By this point of the year, I’ve had it. To cope, my thoughts turn to summer. And a big part of summer in Milwaukee, of course, is Summerfest.

This year will be the 50th edition of Summerfest, which has come a long way from its early days of stages that consisted of wooden platforms raised on concrete blocks.

Milwaukee World Festival Inc., the nonprofit organization that runs Summerfest, has done a great job of improving Henry Maier Festival Park over the years. And now, the organization is working on three huge improvement projects.

Most notably, MWF officials announced recently their plan to replace the 23,000-seat, 30-year-old Marcus Amphitheater, at a cost of between $30 million and $35 million.

Construction is expected to begin in 2019. Under a new sponsorship deal with Madison-based American Family Insurance, the amphitheater will be called the American Family Insurance Amphitheater and the festival will be renamed Summerfest presented by American Family Insurance. Also included in the deal is a new North Gate community plaza, to be completed next year.

Further details of the 10-year sponsorship agreement were not provided, but clearly it is a multimillion dollar deal and huge for Summerfest. It is interesting to see a Madison-based company sponsoring one of Milwaukee’s greatest cultural institutions. Clearly, American Family wants to bolster its brand in the Milwaukee area.

Another big project is well under construction. Major renovations are being done at the Miller Lite Oasis, and will be complete this year. The stage will have a new design with improved sight lines, video screen upgrades, a new bar, upgrades to other bar areas, a hospitality deck expansion, a new elevated viewing deck, and a reconfigured marketplace and retail store. The project is part of the renewal of a sponsorship agreement with Chicago-based MillerCoors, which remains a major supporter of Summerfest and the Milwaukee community.

The third big project planned at the festival grounds is a new U.S. Cellular stage. The new stage will seat 9,000 fans and also will have a larger performance area, a 25-foot LED video screen and a redesigned bar area. It will be built in time for Summerfest 2018. Most of the costs will be footed by Chicago-based U.S. Cellular.

These are just the latest big improvements to the festival grounds. Milwaukee World Festival has completed $65 million in improvements to its facilities, primarily on the southern end of the grounds, since 2004, including a two-phase, $35 million project from 2010-’12 on the South Gate and box office, the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard stage and the waterfront BMO Harris Pavilion stage.

All of this investment, combined with the lakefront setting, is making the festival grounds into a world-class facility.

What’s next? Milwaukee World Festival officials should be working on plans to upgrade the Uline Warehouse stage on the far north end of the festival grounds.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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