Wisconsin Center District postpones plans to take over Marcus Center

The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Milwaukee

Last updated on July 7th, 2019 at 02:37 pm

The Wisconsin Center District wants to postpone an ownership transfer of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts from Milwaukee County to the district until after the new Milwaukee Bucks Arena is built.

The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Milwaukee
The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Milwaukee

The district board had a lengthy informal discussion about the future of the Marcus Center Friday, ultimately deciding that the district has too much to focus on, with the $500 million Bucks Arena about to be built, to take over another venue.

“Our plate is full right now, obviously the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts is an incredible asset to our community, but to take on another entity is not fiscally prudent at this time,” said Milwaukee Common Council President Michael Murphy, who also serves on the district board.

The district owns and operates the Wisconsin Center convention center, the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena and the Milwaukee Theatre. Eventually, the Wisconsin Center District will own the new arena, under a state law passed this summer.

The board asked its attorney to draft a motion so they could formally take action at a future meeting to not take over the Marcus Center.

The Marcus Center was built with private funding in 1969 and deeded to Milwaukee County as a public trust for the preservation and enrichment of the performing arts, including drama, music and dance.

The facility is home to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Ballet, Florentine Opera, City Ballet Theatre, Hansberry-Sands Theatre Company, Broadway Series, and other performing arts groups.

The Milwaukee County’s 2016 recommended budget includes $3.6 million to complete the final phase of overall HVAC replacement at the Marcus Center and another $950,000 to support the center.

If the Wisconsin Center District were to take over the facility, that money would go away, said Joel Brennan, CEO of Discovery World, who serves on both the Wisconsin Center District board and the Marcus Center board.

“It would be valuable for this board to send a signal to the county board to say ‘not until at least the Bucks arena is completed or another day after will we take this on this is still your asset to invest in,’” Brennan said.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele released a statement Friday afternoon saying that consolidating ownership of the convention center, Milwaukee Theatre, Marcus Center and the new Bucks arena, which are all located within 1,000 feet of one another, will allow for better customer service, maximized revenue and avoid duplicate expenses.

“The Wisconsin Center District has an incredible opportunity to take advantage of these efficiencies and I am confident that they will do so in a prudent and timely manner,” Abele said.


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