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Is it Time for a New and Larger Downtown Convention Center?

Issue of the Week

Apr. 25, 2017
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Should the Wisconsin Center District build a new and larger convention center in Downtown Milwaukee? We answer “yes.” Whatever we build today will be with us for the next 20 or 25 years, so if we want to be competitive as a convention city, we need capacity. We certainly believe that Milwaukee seems to have gotten a new burst of energy in Downtown construction projects and new hotels have opened in the area over the past several years. Like almost everything else, Milwaukee convention business is in some very serious competition with other tier-three major U.S. cities like Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Denver, Portland, Ore., etc. Milwaukee is a great city that is not particularly good at marketing itself, but nonetheless has all of the necessary components that make for a “cool 21st-century city.” Fortunately, the world may finally be discovering that. The travel publication Condé Nast Traveler, for example, has just listed Milwaukee as one of the “6 U.S. Cities to Watch in 2017.” We need to capitalize on this “discovery of Milwaukee” and take advantage of more tourism and more conventions. For that we need a modern and larger convention center and more hotel space.

Do We Need a Feasibility Study?

The big question for the Wisconsin Center District board was whether we need a new feasibility study to determine our need for a new convention center and, if so, how large it should be in order to be competitive with cities in our tier. Despite the fact that there have been other studies done in the past supporting a new and larger convention center, we support State Department of Administration Secretary and chair of the Wisconsin Center District, Scott Neitzel, who is arguing that we need a new feasibility study. Neitzel is a very bright and experienced manager and wants to see a detailed feasibility study that is fact based and data driven if we are going to spend about a quarter of a billion dollars building a new convention center. Market forces are continually shifting and we need to utilize the best and most recent data available. The feasibility study will cost about $60,000 and take a few months to complete, but we think that additional time and money is well worth it. Having some understanding of the current market conditions, we are confident that a well-executed feasibility study will produce a result that supports a new and larger facility. If we proceed in this systematic, data-driven approach we also believe it will build more support for the project that will cost some serious money.

If we want to be a great city, and if we want more jobs, we need to be bold and take some risks, but these risks must be supported with the best data available.


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