Wisconsin Center District names design team for convention center expansion project

Project slated for spring 2021 groundbreaking

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The long-planned expansion of the Wisconsin Center in downtown Milwaukee took another step forward on Thursday, when officials announced the selection of an architectural team for the project,  consisting of Atlanta-based tvsdesign and Milwaukee-based Eppstein Uhen Architects.

Officials announced the selection during a Wisconsin Center District board meeting on Thursday morning. At the same meeting, board members also went over what steps are to happen next, including the selection of a construction manager and preparation of an overall cost estimate.

“Today’s announcement is a critical milestone in this exciting and ambitious process,” said Marty Brooks, WCD president and chief executive officer. “The expanded Wisconsin Center will be a facility providing superb, captivating, and buzzworthy experiences to all who enter.”

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Mike Abrams, senior director of Denver-based CAA ICON, which is the owner’s representative on the project for WCD, told board members that 17 firms expressed interest in the project, and 14 threw their hat in the ring in responding to a request for qualifications from WCD. The Responses were due to WCD on Dec. 3, and the project team conducted in-person interviews shortly thereafter.

Firms paired together to make up seven groups.

Next steps include selection of a construction manager. Responses to an invitation to bid are due on Friday, and in-person interviews are scheduled to take place the week of Jan. 6. A construction manager will then likely be named the following week.

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Abrams said four teams have expressed an interest in the construction manager role. They include: J.H. Findorff & Son Inc. and The Concord Group; AECOM Hunt and CG Schmidt; Clark Construction Group LLC and Hunzinger Construction Co.; and Gilbane Building Co. and CD Smith Construction Inc.

During the selection process, each construction manager team will be evaluated based on a number of criteria such as relevant experience, project approach, pre-development fees and approach to meeting inclusion goals, among other things.

With these events in motion, the project team is aiming to put together a cost analysis and project budget by early March, said Abrams.

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Other firms have been selected to perform specific roles. And some pre-development work has already commenced on the project, such as surveying, engineering and project scheduling.

A groundbreaking is slated for spring 2021.

Abrams said the tvs-EUA team were selected in part because of tvs’ experience in convention center projects. He called tvs “an international leader in convention center design,” noting 50% of the 180-employee firm’s work relates to convention centers and that it had more than 80 relevant projects it could point to.

Some notable tvs projects include the recently completed expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center and McCormick Place in Chicago.

“So, they’re very much up to speed on the latest industry trends, (and) operational knowledge of these facilities,” Abrams said.

EUA, which has 230 employees, has worked on notable Milwaukee projects including the Fiserv Forum, Miller Park, the Milwaukee Intermodal Station, the addition to Discovery World and dozens of projects at the Summerfest grounds.

“The combined expertise of our EUA staff with the world-class convention center team at tvsdesign is ready to design a convention center that draws people from around the world to experience our phenomenal city,” said Rich Tennessen, president of EUA.

Brooks said WCD will work with the design team to offer a seamless transition from the existing portion of the convention space to the new addition. At the same time, the new portion will likely have a more modern look.

“We want the exterior to be reflective of the ‘now’ Milwaukee,” he said.

Brooks also mentioned he just turned over a “wish list” to the team of things the district wants accomplished with the expansion. These items range from creative to practical in nature.

“I would love to see there be some sort of freshwater element as part of the design,” he said. “That may be something that, from a value engineering standpoint, doesn’t make it. But, I think the role that water has on the city and the region is important, and I’d love for the visitors who come to the convention center to have some experience with water.”

Brooks added that the expanded space should include more restrooms than what is required by building code. Moreover, he added that intentionally designed gender-neutral bathrooms should be included.

“A lot of meeting planners want to make sure that those attendees to their event who … really don’t want to use or claim a male or female restroom have that,” he said. “The days of being able to convert a men’s or women’s restroom to a gender-neutral restroom is not where I see this facility being. We have to understand that community needs to be accommodated, and we want to do so without compromising the level of facilities and service we’re offering to other users of our facility.”

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