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‘Major step forward:’ Wisconsin Center District reveals renderings for convention center expansion

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MILWAUKEE -- The Wisconsin Center District (WCD) revealed on Friday, March 6 renderings of its proposed expansion project during its board meeting.

The expansion will double the square footage of the convention center and generate $12.6 billion in spending over a 30-year period.


The project costs $425 million in total with hopes to start construction in March of 2021. It is expected to attract more than 100,000 new out-of-state visitors to Milwaukee every year.

Marty Brooks

"The real driving force for this expansion is to be able to do multiple conventions simultaneously, which is why the design calls for separate entrances, separate ballrooms," said Marty Brooks, president and CEO of the WCD.

Funding for the project comes from restricted revenues. Officials said it is a convention center that connects with the street -- a modern design that has more exhibit space, incorporating the current building with the new facility. The architecture is an important part of the project.

"There's a three-story atrium along Vel Phillips. There's glass on the Kilbourn side, so it's convention center that's not a box or a stockade keeping the community outside," Brooks said. "It's a building and a structure that will become very much a part of the streetscape."

The Milwaukee-based Eppstein Uhen Architects (EUA) and Atlanta-based tvsdesign designed the new convention venue.

VISIT Milwaukee's CEO Peggy Williams-Smith

"It really pulls in water, which we are the city of water," Peggy Williams-Smith, president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee, said. "It pulls in some of the architecture that would remind you of Harley, and then as well as the Fiserv Forum."

Right now, the biggest challenge officials are dealing with is already-scheduled conventions and meetings during the time of construction.

In order to remain competitive among its peer cities for more frequent and bigger convention business, the new facility must:

  • Increase the exposition hall square footage by 112,000 sq. ft., totaling 300,000 contiguous sq. ft. plus integrate six loading docks to support the added square footage;
  • Offer a ballroom with a minimum of 30,000 sq. ft. and a minimum seating capacity of 2,000;
  • Add no fewer than 24 new meeting rooms; and
  • Include no fewer than 400 parking spaces.

Other design elements include modernizing the existing facility’s interior, creating a cohesive feeling between the current and new facility; building new employee locker rooms, break, training, and briefing rooms; adding gender-neutral bathrooms, quiet rooms and nursing mother’s rooms; and creating outdoor patio spaces. The new facility will also include a centralized Visit Milwaukee Visitor Center.

The project would take a little more than two years to complete.

The WCD board will vote on the project on April 2. If approved, officials hope to open in June 2023.

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