Wisconsin Center expansion groundbreaking could be delayed due to coronavirus outbreak

Bonds won't be issued in April as planned

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The planned expansion of Milwaukee’s downtown convention center is facing delays due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

Marty Brooks, president and chief executive of the Wisconsin Center District, which owns and operates the Wisconsin Center and other downtown venues, said the plan had been to issue bonds for the project on April 21. Final design work would take place the following months, and a groundbreaking was slated for March or April of 2021, with an opening date of June 2023.

But now, with the market uncertainty caused by the outbreak, the district will no longer be issuing bonds next month, he said.

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This means there’s a significant possibility the groundbreaking date will be pushed back by several months. Brooks cautioned that this wasn’t a certainty for a couple of reasons. One, he wasn’t able to predict what the bond market would be like a few weeks out, and two, there’s also the possibility the final-design process could be sped up by a couple of months after bond issuance.

“There’s just too many variables at this time,” he said.

WCD officials are proposing to double the size of the convention center and grow the exposition hall space to 300,000 contiguous square feet. The plans also call for a ballroom with at least 30,000 square feet and a minimum seating capacity of 2,000; the addition of at least 24 meeting rooms; and no fewer than 400 parking spaces.

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Renderings and project details were unveiled earlier this month.

The Wisconsin Center’s operations have seen a more immediate impact as well due to the outbreak. Brooks said no events are scheduled until at least the end of May. Event cancellations started coming in late last week.

A lack of events means that part-time staff aren’t being scheduled to work. However, WCD has not actually laid off any of its employees, Brooks noted. He added that he’s encouraging all full-time staff to work from home.

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“The most important thing is that we want the staff and everyone to stay safe and healthy,” Brooks said.

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