The downtown Milwaukee convention center will double in size and its exposition hall space would grow to 300,000 contiguous square feet, under expansion plans revealed by the Wisconsin Center District. The up-to $425 million project will generate $12.6 billion in spending over a 30-year period, according to WCD officials. WCD, which owns and operates the Wisconsin Center and other downtown venues, has long planned to expand its convention space in hopes of attracting additional events and making Milwaukee more competitive relative to peer cities. Detailed plans were unveiled during a WCD board of directors meeting Friday morning. [gallery size="full" td_select_gallery_slide="slide" ids="498859,498858,498857,498856,498855,498854,498853,498852"] For the convention center to remain competitive, WCD said it must:
Increase the expo hall by 112,000 square feet, and integrate six loading docks to support the added space;
Offer a ballroom with at least 30,000 square feet and a minimum seating capacity of 2,000;
Add no fewer than 24 new meeting rooms; and
Include no fewer than 400 parking spaces
The project will also include updating the existing facility’s interior, new employee locker rooms, break rooms, training rooms and briefing rooms, adding gender-neutral bathrooms, adding quiet and nursing mothers' rooms, and creating outdoor patio spaces. The facility will also include a centralized Visit Milwaukee visitor center. The expansion project carries a theme of "building more," said Marty Brooks, WCD president and chief executive. "Revealing our vision for the Wisconsin Center expansion with the board and to our community represents a major step forward," Brooks said. "It is essential that this design seamlessly integrates into our city’s landscape and is a place people are proud to show off. We want this space to build inclusivity, experiences, memories and momentum and drive economic impact for our great city." And while the exact expected cost is still undetermined, WCD has set a not-to-exceed limit of $425 million. A more detailed estimate is expected by March 16. Rob Svedberg, principal of Atlanta-based tvsdesign, said the exhibit hall will be expanded over an area currently used as a surface parking lot. The new ballroom will be constructed at the northeastern end of the building addition, underneath the exhibit hall and facing the tunnel underneath Wells Street. The firm is working with Milwaukee-based Eppstein Uhen Architects in designing the convention center expansion. Another ballroom will allow the convention center to host multiple big events at the same time, said Svedberg. Currently WCD loses out on business when getting requests from two similar-sized events being held around the same time. "In addition to building more exhibition space, which is really (for) bigger events, one of the primary goals of this convention center is to do multiple simultaneous events," he said. "In addition to just being able to do one show that just uses 300,000 square feet in the exhibit hall, you can have two shows going on at the same time, both needing 150,000 square feet ... and to do that, you need an additional ballroom." A feature of the new third-floor exhibit hall space is a large window overlooking the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena to the north. The window could be darkened if event organizers wish for a more private setting. The fourth floor includes ballroom and pre-function space, and a terrace overlooking downtown Milwaukee. The project could also incorporate some sustainability features, and will carry with it a number of inclusion goals. Mike Abrams, senior director of CAA ICON, which is acting as the owner’s representative for WCD on the project, said the design team is looking at multiple options for installing solar panels on the building's roof, installing a rainwater-collection system and possibly using as a primary energy source. "We are dedicated to a high level of sustainability," he said. The project itself will carry contracting and hiring goals such as awarding 25% of contract dollars to minority-owned businesses, 5% to women-owned businesses and 1% to disabled veteran-owned businesses. This applies to both construction and professional-services work, Abrams said. In addition, WCD has pledged to ensure at least 40% of all labor hours on the construction will be performed by city residents. These details partly addressed concerns that the Milwaukee Common Council brought up earlier this week. Council members took up a measure that could reverse a previous city approval related to the project's financing. The matter will be discussed again at a committee meeting this month, providing WCD officials the chance to answer the Council's questions and concerns in a public setting. The WCD Board will give final approval on the expansion project on Thursday, April 2, when it meets to approve financing plans. Those plans, also presented Friday, include goals beyond financing the project itself. They also include: Using only restricted revenues to pay existing and new debt serve, while using unrestricted revenues to finance operations and VISIT Milwaukee; doubling the WCD "rainy day fund" for debt service; maximizing the benefit of the state's $300 million moral-obligation pledge; and preserving future flexibility and bonding capacity.