The "Big Gig" gets a big makeover, accommodating growing crowds at the World's largest music festival.

"I could not be happier with the finished project, and I think we have created something that all Milwaukeeans can be proud of. We could not have done it without EUA." -Don Smiley, President & CEO, Milwaukee World Festival, Inc.

Home to the World's largest music festival, Henry W. Maier Festival Park has grown tremendously from its humble beginnings. The grounds first hosted Summerfest in 1968 on an abandoned air strip and Nike missile base using wooden platform stages built on concrete blocks. Although modest improvements were made over the years, the venue suffered from tired buildings, an overwhelming amount of asphalt, and a lack of shade.

Millennium Momentum

In 2001, Eppstein Uhen Architects worked with Milwaukee World Festival Inc. to develop "Millennium Momentum", a 90-acre master plan that would better serve the nearly 2 million visitors that descend on the lakefront each year. The plan proposed major improvements including: a more consistent design, new plazas, better way-finding, landmark features, modern buildings, increased greenery and less asphalt as well as expanded access to mass transit.


Although funding was limited, the team was able to implement multiple projects during the next two years. An updated mid-gate entrance gives the grounds a more substantial front door and provides views of a new fountain and Harbor Island. Additional projects included an 18,000-square-foot pavilion that houses the Potawatomi Bingo Stage, an ethnic village, improved restroom facilities and other new buildings.

Master Plan

Milwaukee World Festival Inc. hired EUA again in 2009 to master plan the southern 22 acres of Henry W. Maier Festival Park. The overarching goal was simple - to keep the grounds fresh and relevant, providing a more comfortable and enjoyable experience for festival-goers. Phase I of the project, completed in Spring 2011, included a new state-of-the-art music stage, new south gate, new food vendor facilities, infrastructure improvements and an overall image upgrade for the grounds.

South Gate

The south entrance gate has become the center of service for festival patrons. From valet service to newly relocated box offices, festival-goers can be assured their needs will be met when utilizing the services of the south entrance. A predominate feature of the design is the large signage truss that frames the ceremonial entry.

Once you pass through the gate you enter "Buskers Row," a simulated street scene with performers, colorful facades, large graphics, and photo opportunities that are all meant to enhance the sense of energy and activity that the music festival evokes.

Big Backyard

The Briggs and Stratton Big Backyard has a residential feel that allows patrons to enjoy spending time with their friends and family in a more casual and relaxed environment. This area includes a new stage, restrooms, beer pods, mix tower and food vendor building with a second floor VIP deck. The use of softer forms, natural material and vegetation are key to the design of this venue.

BMO Harris Pavilion

The BMO Harris Pavilion was designed by EUA and completed in 2012 as the main component of Phase II. The space holds up to 10,000 people and was designed with a swooshing wave-like roof. Additional amenities include a lakeside sit-down restaurant and a club bar with room for 200 patrons and a commanding view of the stage.

"This particular venue takes it to a whole new stratosphere as far as music and other performances go. This is not just another grounds stage; it truly is different.” -Don Smiley, President & CEO, Milwaukee World Festival, Inc.

The Business Journal Project of the Year
City of Milwaukee Mayor's Design Award
Daily Reporter Top Project (2)
Wisconsin Masonry Alliance Excellence in Masonry