Summerfest is Getting a New Amphitheater and a Name Change

The Marcus Amphitheater's replacement could be open by the 2020 festival.

Jan. 26, 2017
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Rendering courtesy Summerfest

Summerfest promised some big news today, and it wasn’t exaggerating. Today the festival announced a new naming-rights partnership with American Family Insurance, so for the next decade at least the festival will be technically known as Summerfest Presented by American Family Insurance (we’re guessing most people will just call it Summerfest anyway).

The bigger news, though, are some renovations that include a new Marcus Amphitheater, to be known as the American Family Insurance Amphitheater. According to a press release, “Amenities in the new complex will include enhanced production space, additional restaurant options, new restroom facilities and new hospitality areas.”

The new amphitheater will be built in the same space as the current Marcus Amphitheater, Summerfest’s Sara McGuire tells the Shepherd. Construction will tentatively start in 2019, after that year’s festival, and be finished in time for the 2020.

Beyond that, a lot is still in the air. A rendering the festival included for the new amphitheater may or may not be a good representation of how the final structure will actually look. “It’s definitely still in the conceptual stage,” McGuire says. “In terms of any solid plans, we don’t have those yet at this point, but I do know that we intend on keeping the seating at 20,000 [23,000 according to the press release], which is where we have it now, and really focusing on the guest experience.

Presumably the new amphitheater will look a little less like a concrete block than the current one, which is very good news. The festival also revealed renderings for a new north entrance gate.

Summerfest’s complete press release is below.

Components Include a Presenting Sponsorship of Summerfest, Construction of a new 23,000-seat Amphitheate, new North Gate and Plaza and Community Programming and Outreach

MILWAUKEE (January 26, 2017) - Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. officials are excited to announce a new, comprehensive sponsorship with American Family Insurance that will strategically align both brands into the next decade and beyond through a naming rights partnership. With this agreement, American Family Insurance will become the first presenting sponsor in the history of Summerfest. Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. is especially proud to announce this historic partnership with a leading Wisconsin-based company as we celebrate the 50th Summerfest in 2017.

The components of the sponsorship, which takes effect immediately, include:

 *   Presenting status of Summerfest. The festival will now be known as Summerfest presented by American Family Insurance.  The financial resources associated with the American Family Insurance sponsorship commitment will allow Summerfest to maintain its mission, which remains true today after a half century: a tradition of a world-class line-up at affordable prices for the entire community.

 *   Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. will build a new 23,000-seat Amphitheater at Henry Maier Festival Park, which will be known as the American Family Insurance Amphitheater. Amenities in the new complex will include enhanced production space, additional restaurant options, new restroom facilities and new hospitality areas. Construction is tentatively scheduled for 2019 – 2020.

 *   Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. will construct a new North Gate and community plaza, linking Henry Maier Festival Park to downtown Milwaukee and the development associated with the Lakefront Gateway Project. Construction is scheduled for late 2017, with the gate completion anticipated for Summerfest 2018.

 *   Creation of new music education activities which will provide access for Milwaukee students.  Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. and American Family Insurance will also participate in community outreach in specific Milwaukee neighborhoods.

“In 2017, American Family will celebrate its 90th anniversary and Summerfest its 50th, so we’re thrilled to announce this partnership during such a historic year for both our organizations,” said American Family Insurance Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President Jack Salzwedel. “This partnership with Summerfest not only allows us to raise awareness and effectively market our brand to a large and enthusiastic audience, but gives us the opportunity to support a popular and enduring community event our customers from Wisconsin, and all parts of the country, look forward to each year.”

Regarding the sponsorship, Don Smiley, president and chief executive officer of Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. stated, “This is a transformational partnership for Summerfest and Henry Maier Festival Park. American Family Insurance’s commitment will ensure that our festival continues the legacy of hosting the world’s most renowned entertainers. We could not be more excited to join with American Family Insurance and, together, step boldly into the future.”

American Family Insurance’s commitment is perfectly timed given Summerfest is preparing for its 50th edition of the festival in 2017. “As a festival we rely on major corporate support to remain an affordable community celebration.  American Family Insurance’s leadership provides the essential financial support for Summerfest to move into the next 50 years,” Smiley said.

Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. chairman Ted Kellner stated, “I have been an active member of the board for 36 of the festival’s 50 years, having served as chairman for 9 years. With that perspective, I can say with certainty that the civic mission of Summerfest is preserved through this new partnership. We are exceptionally excited for the future of the festival, the Amphitheater, Henry Maier Festival Park and the Milwaukee community.”

Stephen H. Marcus stepped forward in the 1980s to provide critical funding to build the Marcus Amphitheater.  The facility has served Summerfest for 29 years and has hosted some of the world’s biggest names in music, including Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Bruno Mars, Cher, Britney Spears and Kenny Chesney.  Millions of fans have enjoyed concerts at the facility and the building is an important component in the festival’s overall contribution of $187 million annually to the Milwaukee regional economy.

“As an organization, we have tremendous gratitude for the Marcus family’s civic leadership and commitment to Summerfest, Henry Maier Festival Park and Milwaukee. Steve’s willingness to support us 30 years ago forever changed the course of the festival, allowing Summerfest to become The World’s Largest Music Festival,” said Kellner.

Kellner is a member of American Family Insurance’s board of directors but had no involvement in contract talks between the two parties. While financial details of the partnership are not being disclosed, Smiley described the contract as “fair and beneficial to both Summerfest and American Family Insurance.”

In addition to the conceptual ideas presented today, more renderings and additional details surrounding the project timelines will be revealed at a later date.  All capital projects are subject to the approval of the Board of Harbor Commissioners.


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