Wisconsin Center District seeing increased interest from convention planners since DNC announcement

Exec says district had nine site visits in one five-day period alone in late April

The Wisconsin Center located on of Fourth Street and Wisconsin Avenue has 188,695 square feet of exhibit space.

Last updated on June 27th, 2019 at 11:41 am

In the weeks following the announcement that Milwaukee would host the Democratic National Convention in 2020, the Wisconsin Center District has seen increased interest from groups looking to potentially host their events in one of the district’s facilities.

Marty Brooks, WCD chief executive officer, said that in a five-day period in late April alone, the district hosted nine different site visits, which have so far resulted in “verbal commitments” from two of those visiting groups. He declined to say who the groups are.

“We’ve already seen a significant uptick in interest in the convention business in Milwaukee, specifically our facilities, since the announcement of the Democratic National Convention,” Brooks told members of the WCD board of directors this morning

Convention organizers plan to use the district’s facilities during the DNC next July, although how exactly they will be used is yet to be determined. Brooks said WCD should have a better idea of how the facilities will be used during the DNC within the next 30 to 45 days.

Following the board meeting, Brooks said the district must capitalize on the uptick of interest. One way to do that is lay the groundwork on how to potentially expand the convention center.

In 2017, a study found the convention center’s exhibit hall space should be expanded to 300,000 square feet. In addition, the study recommended meeting space be doubled and ballroom space should be expanded by 15,000 to 20,000 feet. In order to be successful, the convention center would also need 1,000 new hotel rooms within walking distance.

Brooks said the expected cost of expanding the convention center would be around $250 million to $290 million. WCD officials are planning to work with a financial consultant to come up with a way to finance such an expansion, and offer ways to fill any remaining holes if the district is not able to borrow enough money for the project.

A request for qualifications seeking firms interested in crafting such as financing plan closed on May 1. In a news release, WCD announced Morgan Stanley had been identified as the lead investment banking firm. Brooks said 10 firms responded to the RFQ that were interested in serving in a senior role on the project, while 24 others responded with interest in serving in a lessor capacity.

Brooks said Milwaukee is not able to attract certain groups and events due to space limitations at the convention center.

“There’s an urgency because there’s business that we’re currently turning away because we can’t accommodate, either because we’re not large enough to host that single event, or based upon the business that we have, it’s prohibiting us from doing simultaneous business,” he said.

“Once someone says you’re not big enough, they’re not going to come back and look at you again,” Brooks added. “So we need to get a plan in place with shovels in the ground so those people that we may not be able to accommodate today know we’re working on (expanding) three, four or five years from now.”

Get our email updates

Alex Zank
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.