Expanded building expected to attract more than 100,000 new out-of-state visitors to Milwaukee annually

MILWAUKEE – March 6, 2020 – The Wisconsin Center District (WCD) revealed renderings of its proposed expansion project and outlined the project’s financial funding models during its board meeting today. The expansion will double the square footage of the convention center and generate $12.6 billion in spending over a 30-year period. Renderings are available at www.BuildingMore.com.

“Revealing our vision for the Wisconsin Center expansion with the board and to our community represents a major step forward,” said Marty Brooks, President and CEO of the WCD. “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.”

Milwaukee-based Eppstein Uhen Architects (EUA) and Atlanta-based tvsdesign designed the new convention venue with the vision to create a space that incorporates industry trends and connects the Wisconsin Center to the greater Milwaukee community. 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 EUA and tvsdesign team met WCD’s expectations for a bold, state-of-art facility that will energize the community and build on the exciting momentum already taking place in Milwaukee,” said Marc Farha, Executive Vice President of CAA ICON, the owner’s representative for the WCD. “The expansion design fits the needs of the Wisconsin Center’s current business partners and those it aspires to do business with well into the future.”

In concert with the EUA and tvsdesign team, Baird and Morgan Stanley presented the expansion financing funding models that address WCD’s short and long-term strategic financial goals. The financial project not-to-exceed estimated cost is $425 million.

“Today is an exciting day. For months, we’ve been laying the groundwork for this expansion, investing in pre-planning and gathering the necessary information so the board can make an informed decision on behalf of our city, region and state,” said Jim Kanter, Board Chairman for the WCD. “We’re proud of the design generated by EUA and tvsdesign and the detailed work from Baird and Morgan Stanley clearly identifying financial paths forward.”

The financing models presented during the board meeting are structured with the following financial goals in mind:

  • Finance convention center expansion;
  • Utilize only the District’s Restricted Revenues to pay existing and new debt service; preserve Unrestricted Revenues to fund VISIT Milwaukee and other operating and capital needs of the District;
  • At least double the District’s “rainy day fund” (restricted reserve account) for debt service
  • Maximize benefit of the State’s Moral Obligation Pledge which reduces the District’s debt service costs; and
  • Preserve future flexibility and future bonding capacity with the ability to refinance/retire debt and structure level debt as soon as possible.

The official cost estimate from the construction managers will not be complete until March 16. These financing models will include the cost to fund the expansion based on the following parameters:

  • A debt term of 40 years;
  • Keeping the Milwaukee County basic hotel room tax rate at 2.5% or increasing it to 3.0%; and
  • Creating a blended debt structure including a combination of capital appreciation bonds (CABs), current interest rate bonds (CIBs) and restructuring existing debt.

The proposed tax increase will apply to Milwaukee County hotel rooms so the incremental revenue will be substantially funded by business and leisure travelers.

The WCD board will vote on the expansion project vote at its meeting on Thursday, April 2.


Wisconsin Center District

Experience-obsessed and committed to creating unforgettable experiences, the Wisconsin Center District (WCD) is a quasi-governmental body that operates the Wisconsin Center, UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena and Miller High Life Theatre in downtown Milwaukee. WCD venues are within walking distance of leading hotels, retail establishments, attractions, dining, nightclubs and transportation. Created under Wisconsin State Statute in 1994, WCD offers captivating- and buzzworthy-experiences making Milwaukee a not-to-be-missed destination.

Wisconsin Center

The Wisconsin Center, located in the heart of downtown Milwaukee, is the hub of convention business in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Center offers 188,695 square feet of contiguous exposition space and 37,500 square feet of ballroom space, accommodating up to 1,000 vendors and 10,000 guests. Well-appointed spaces are also available for groups as small as ten. The Wisconsin Center is ideal for trade and consumer shows, conventions, banquets, business meetings, and celebrations. The Wisconsin Center is experience-obsessed and dedicated to providing unforgettable buzzworthy experiences for all clients and guests. The Wisconsin Center is owned and operated by the Wisconsin Center District. For more information and to book an event, visit wisconsincenter.com.