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Nine venues form 'Milwaukee Theater District' to protect live entertainment scene

Marcus Performing Arts Center, Miller High Life Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Pabst Theater, and other venues are banding together under a new group.
Black Arts MKE
Posted at 3:10 PM, Nov 30, 2022

MILWAUKEE — Nine Milwaukee-based entertainment venues are banding together to form the "Milwaukee Theater District," with the stated aim of protecting the "already impactful" live entertainment scene in the city.

Organizers explained in a statement on Wednesday that, "Through advocacy and collaborative marketing campaigns, the Milwaukee Theater District seeks to increase visitation, stoke local pride, and enhance the city's reputation as a top-tier arts and cultural destination."

While organizers did not strictly mention it, the effort may be in response to FPC Live's plan to build two entertainment venues in the Deer District, one with a 4,000-person capacity and the other with a 800-person capacity. FPC Live's $50 million project is supported by the global entertainment company Live Nation, which owns Ticketmaster. FPC Live's proposal for the massive project received the approval of the Milwaukee Common Council and is viewed favorably by Mayor Cavalier Johnson.

FPC Live's announcement to build entertainment venues capable of housing 4,800 music fans provoked the ire of already established music venues, including the big names Pabst Theater Group, The Rave and Eagles Ballroom, Shank Hall and the Cactus Club. The group, which called itself in previous announcements "Save MKE’s Music Scene," has said the problem they have with the FPC Live proposal is that the company will book acts for venues only they own or operate, cutting big-name artists from playing at locally owned venues.

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In Wednesday's announcement, organizers argue that part of the problem is that the country isn't aware of the already existing quality music establishments in Milwaukee. Organizers say that their combined theatre district would have a capacity of 15,000 people - the highest number of theater seats per capita in the U.S., they say. Venues in the district attract a combined 2,100 annual performances and 2 million attendees every year, generating an estimated $400 million in visitor spending annually, organizers say, citing Tourism Economics. Finally, they cite that Milwaukee-based theaters support about 1,000 Milwaukee residents as employees.

"The purpose of the Milwaukee Theater District is to drive increased awareness of and attendance at Milwaukee's premier arts, live performance, and entertainment venues and to empower each as through the collective," organizers said.

"While the district has no formal borders, participating venues are all located in a safe and convenient walkable cluster in the heart of downtown Milwaukee," according to organizers.

The participating venues in the "Milwaukee Theater District" are as follows, according to their news release on Wednesday:

  • Bradley Symphony Center 
  • Marcus Performing Arts Center 
  • Wisconsin Center District 
  • Miller High Life Theatre 
  • Milwaukee Repertory Theater 
  • Pabst Theater 
  • Pabst Theater Group 
  • Riverside Theater 
  • Sunstone Theater 
  • The ARC Theatre at Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel
  • Turner Hall Ballroom 

And performance groups operating within the "Milwaukee Theater District" are as follows, organizers said:

  • Black Arts MKE 
  • First Stage
  • Florentine Opera
  • Milwaukee Ballet
  • Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

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