Third Ward residents raise concerns about proposed indoor venue complex

Rendering of the proposed indoor music venue in Milwaukee's Third Ward. (Rendering: Eppstein Uhen Architects)

Last updated on January 21st, 2022 at 03:42 pm

In the first of two public input sessions on a proposed indoor music venue complex in Milwaukee’s Historic Third Ward, neighborhood residents and business owners raised questions and concerns about how the project would impact safety and livability.

The session was hosted Tuesday night by FPC Live, a national event promoter and venue operator based in Madison. The brand and its parent company Frank Productions, Inc. plans to develop a two-venue facility on a surface lot west of the Summerfest grounds. FPC will lease the site, just south of the Summerfest administration building, from Summerfest’s operator Milwaukee World Festival Inc.

Between its two venues — one with a scalable capacity of up to 800 people and the other with a scalable capacity of up to 4,000 — the facility is expected to host 135 events annually, including concerts and private functions like weddings and corporate events.

The prospect of increased night-time activity on an additional 135 nights is not sitting well with some neighborhood residents, who say they already have to tolerate inconveniences such as closed streets, heavy traffic and noise during Summerfest and other festivals at Henry Maier Festival Park.

Speaking in front of about 50 people – with 60 more tuning in via Zoom – Frank Productions CEO Joel Plant gave a brief overview of the project and why the company chose Milwaukee and the Third Ward as the home of its proposed new venue. He then took questions from attendees.

Parking on East Erie Street

One major concern raised by residents is the lack of available parking along East Erie Street on event nights. FPC intends to utilize the 1,850-spot surface parking lot directly east of the development’s entrances for event parking, which ticket holders could purchase for an additional fee. Plant said 1,850 spots would be sufficient for the majority of events held at the venue. 

A few residents who said they own condos in the Harbor Front and Hansen’s Landing buildings along Erie Street say they are worried that ticket holders would opt for free street parking instead of paying to park in the lot, therefore, as one resident said, “stealing” street parking spaces from residents.

“I’m not sure that we can stop people from parking on Erie as it’s a public road, but our intention is to drive people to park in the lots that are closest to the entrance to the building,” said Plant, adding there would be no reason to close Eerie or Jackson streets on event nights like there is during Summerfest with much larger crowds.

He said the traffic flow would be directed north toward the freeway on-off ramp to keep traffic from heading south down Erie Street and hitting a dead end.

Design of facility’s west-facing side and roof 

The back of the venue facility would be fully visible from east-facing condos along Erie Street. One business owner asked if FPC plans to improve the visual appeal of the venue’s west-facing facade as well as its roof.

“The neighbors are going to be looking over this building, so there needs to be some sense of the neighborhood to make it aesthetically pleasing,” said Mary Beth Waite, broker and owner of Milwaukee-based Cornerstone Realtors. She asked if FPC would consider redesigning the west side of the building or adding a green roof. 

The project still needs approval from the Historic Third Ward Architectural Review Board, which got its first look at the project in December. A second review will take place in February to discuss adjustments to the original proposal. Construction is scheduled to begin early next year, with the venues projected to open after Summerfest 2023, pending approvals.

Alderman Robert Bauman, who also sits on the architectural review board, said improving the aesthetic of the building is an issue the board can and will likely address.

He said the project is virtually untouchable to the City of Milwaukee Common Council since it’s being built on land privately owned by Milwaukee World Festivals and a concert venue falls under the permitted uses of the property’s “mixed industrial” zoning.

However, the complex is proposed for a site that faces a private street owned by Port Milwaukee. Port Milwaukee’s Board of Harbor Commissioners would need to approve an agreement allowing people to legally access the site. The port owns the land where the public access would be, and leases it to Milwaukee World Festival Inc. The land where the complex itself would be built is owned by Milwaukee World Festival.

Other concerns addressed at the meeting include the projects impact on nearby property values, neighborhood safety and security, and competition with existing downtown venues and other establishments.

A group identified as the Friends & Neighbors of the Historic Third Ward has spoken out against FPC’s project by mailing flyers to condo owners throughout downtown. Mary Beth Waite, who received the postcards at her condo on the East Side, said it’s unclear who exactly is behind the group. The flyers depict unsettling images of a broken car window and dirty city streets, with the message “Don’t let outsiders destroy our neighborhood.”

The group encouraged neighbors to attend FPC’s public input sessions to voice concerns but included the wrong dates: Feb. 11 and 18 instead of Jan. 11 and 18. It also urged opponents of the project to “call the Historic Third Ward Association and tell them the Third Ward neighbors do not want this project.”

Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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