Wisconsin Center District finalizing deal with a firm that will help it find a naming-rights sponsor for convention center

Firm could be named next week

Rendering: tvsdesign and Eppstein Uhen Architects
Rendering: tvsdesign and Eppstein Uhen Architects

Last updated on January 15th, 2021 at 01:07 pm

The Wisconsin Center District is finalizing a contract with a consultancy firm that will help it land a new naming-rights sponsor for the downtown Milwaukee convention center.

A contract might be finalized and the firm named as soon as next week. It represents a step forward in renaming the Wisconsin Center, which has gone without a sponsor for years.

Marty Brooks, WCD president and chief executive officer updated the district Board of Directors’ Finance Committee on the negotiations with the firm this morning.

“I hope to have an agreement finalized, so at the board meeting next week I can share the name with you, but I’m hesitant to do that until we have T’s crossed and I’s dotted,” he said.

Brooks added a few contract points were still outstanding, though he didn’t get until details of the negotiations.

The search for a firm started a year ago, Brooks said. WCD had initially identified about a dozen potential candidates. Officials met with six and narrowed the list down in November to three finalists.

Meanwhile, WCD has extended the naming-rights sponsorship with Molson Coors Beverage Co. for the Miller High Life Theatre through the end of 2022, Brooks said. The theater building is also owned by WCD.

The existing naming-rights agreement allowed Molson Coors to reduce is payments during periods of inactivity. This was certainly the case for most of 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and mass event cancellations.

But the two parties reached an agreement that extended the Miller High Life Theatre name by another year. It was set to expire at the end of 2021. The new agreement was struck on Tuesday, said Brooks.

“We felt it was in our best interest, as did Molson Coors, to look to not forgive them for the payments but see if there was a way to take what was otherwise contracted and still retain that by moving out the expiration of the naming rights by a year,” he said.

Molson Coors expressed interest in pushing its sponsorship beyond 2022. But WCD declined, as it planned to eventually land a new sponsor for the entire district-owned complex, Brooks said.

District leaders think now is a good time to initiate the search for a new sponsor, after going without one on for some time, because it is about to embark on a $420 million expansion project. The expansion will double the size of the venue’s convention space.

WCD is paying for that project through bonding. It released bonds last year after a brief delay, as the initial onset of the pandemic upset financial markets.

Brooks said he expects sometime in November or December that the convention center surface parking lot (which is where the expansion will be built) will be readied for construction. Groundbreaking is then slated for late December or early January 2022.

“Thus far, we feel we are in a good place,” Brooks said.

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Alex Zank covers commercial and residential real estate for BizTimes. Alex previously worked for Farm Equipment magazine and also covered statewide construction news at The Daily Reporter. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where he studied journalism, political science and economics. Having grown up in rural western Wisconsin, Alex loves all things outdoors, including camping, hiking, four-wheeling and hunting.

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