While arena is complete, surrounding development district is just beginning

Arena district development kicks off around Fiserv Forum


When the Milwaukee Bucks announced plans to build a new arena in the Park East corridor, the team and the city envisioned it as the anchor of a vibrant neighborhood that would draw people day and night to a long-vacant section of downtown Milwaukee.

To help make that vision a reality, a development entity formed by the Bucks acquired all of the vacant Park East corridor land between the Aloft hotel (1230 N. Old World Third St.) and The Brewery complex from Milwaukee County, with plans to create a mixed-use district around the arena.

The Bucks plan to bring more development to the area around Fiserv Forum. Credit: Jon Elliott of MKE Drones LLC

With Fiserv Forum now ready to open, construction of the Entertainment Block across the street from the arena progressing and nearby neighborhoods experiencing the beginnings of a renaissance, the pieces have begun to come together to make the broad arena district vision a reality.

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“We’ve always had a big, big vision,” said Bucks president Peter Feigin. “Certainly the arena is a great magnet and centerpiece. But we need (the district to be) a place where people can live, work and play.”

When the 714,000-square-foot Fiserv Forum opens Aug. 26, the development in the arena district will just be getting started.

The Entertainment Block, located along the east side of Vel R. Phillips Avenue between West Highland Avenue and West Juneau Avenue, is one of the central elements of the team’s plans for the arena district. Originally scheduled for completion in September, the block will now open in early 2019. So far, two tenants – national “eatertainment” chain Punch Bowl Social and craft brewer Good City Brewing – have been announced.

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Adjacent to the arena’s parking structure, along the east side of North Sixth Street between West Juneau Avenue and West McKinley Avenue, Milwaukee-based Royal Capital Group LLC is currently building Five Fifty Ultra Lofts, a 90-unit apartment complex. The apartments are part of the Bucks’ overall master plan of creating a neighborhood for the arena district, Feigin said.

“The key is to create the infrastructure that creates great neighborhoods,” he said.

The Bucks own two more vacant city blocks to the north of the arena and a site to the west of the practice facility. The Bucks are exploring many options for the sites, including a hotel, residential mixed use, entertainment or a corporate headquarters building.

Meanwhile, deconstruction of the BMO Harris Bradley Center will begin in early fall and the Bucks will begin redevelopment work for that 6-acre site.

Blair Williams, president of WiRED Properties, who has been serving as the Bucks’ managing director of real estate since January 2017, said the Fiserv Forum’s design allows the arena itself to be part of the neighborhood.

The arena will have 130 to 150 events per year, and its open plaza will host another 80 events per year, making it a catalyst for neighborhood activity, Williams said.

“The Bucks have always talked about diversity and inclusivity, which are easy words to say, but you also have to think about what that means for development,” he said. “We would love to drive more daytime traffic. That happens by layering uses.”

To boost daytime traffic in the area, attracting office tenants will be a focus, as well as a grocery store or drug store, which would be beneficial to give the residents and employees a neighborhood feel, Williams said.

“Too much entertainment is too one-dimensional,” he said.

Williams believes the site closest to The Brewery complex makes the most sense for an anchor office tenant because of the visibility from the freeway.

The Bucks responded to the original RFP Brookfield-based financial technology firm Fiserv Inc. issued for its new headquarters development in early 2017. The company still has not made a decision about the future of its headquarters. Since Fiserv inked a deal with the team as the naming rights sponsor for the arena, some have speculated that the company might end up moving its headquarters near the arena.

“We have had conversations with (specific) potential office users, but have not gone to the broader market (to pitch the arena district as an office site),” Williams said.

Williams is hopeful the development community, both locally and nationally, takes notice of the large development blocks available in the Park East Corridor.

“The Bucks are not a real estate development firm,” Williams said. “They are incredible corporate citizens who happen to have been involved in one of the largest real estate developments in Milwaukee.”

Another project Williams has worked on with development partner Sean Phelan, president of Milwaukee-based Phelan Development LLC, has been the redevelopment of the former Ace Hardware building at 1303 N. Fourth St., just north of the Park East corridor and the arena.

St. Charles, Illinois-based Windy City Motorcycle Group is planning to open a Harley-Davidson dealership in the building.

Williams said the project is an example of what the Bucks are attempting to do with the arena district: blend old Milwaukee with new development.

Beginning last season, Harley put its badge on the Bucks uniform as part of a sponsorship deal.

“We want this neighborhood to express Milwaukee’s identity,” Williams said.

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