MILWAUKEE — The sound of shovels hitting dirt on Thursday marked the start of a long-awaited $420 million expansion at the Wisconsin Center. A buzz of excitement could also be heard floating above the crowd that gathered to watch a new chapter begin.
"This project has had a lot of ups and downs," said Marty Brooks, President and CEO of the Wisconsin Center District. "We really started working in earnest on this in August of 2019. It's when the board authorized a million dollars to spend toward pursing the idea."
City leaders say it's not just a structure that's being built. The project is expected to grow spending, attract more visitors and keep fueling economic development west of the river.
"This was a big parking lot prior to the expansion approval," remembered Peggy Williams-Smith, President and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee. "Now, people will be able to walk down Vel R. Philips (Avenue), walk from the Hyatt, see this beautiful building with this amazing veranda that overlooks the street and then walk right to the Panther arena or over to the theater or continue to go down until they get to the Deer District."
And along the way, job opportunities with a living wage will be created. Those involved say it's all part of building a more equitable downtown.
"There is a commitment that there will be a floor of $15 an hour for the workers here," added Lafayette Crump, the Commissioner of City Development for Milwaukee. "We're starting to see that become a standard floor, and a recognition that if you're going to be working 40 hours a week — you should have a wage you can actually support your family on."
This planned expansion will nearly double the size of the existing convention center and allow for simultaneous events to take place. The expansion is set to debut in 2024.
Before ➡️➡️➡️ After— Andrea Albers (@AndreaAlbersTV) October 28, 2021
Ground is about to be broken at the Wisconsin Center in downtown #Milwaukee for a major expansion set to debut in 2024! Head to the @tmj4 app to watch #live. pic.twitter.com/pL73BYGOtQ