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Convention center gets financial approval to move forward with expansion

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Thanks to unanimous approval from the Wisconsin Center District (WCD) Governance Committee to finance the $420 million expansion of the Milwaukee convention center, the project can now move forward to the planning phase.

This phase will include CAA ICON as the owner’s representative, the architecture firms tvsdesign and EUA, and the construction team of Gilbane and C.D. Smith.

The project has an anticipated groundbreaking date late next year with the an opening projected for early 2024.

Renderings of how the finished building could look were released in March, and in early April, two weeks after the coronavirus shutdown began, WCD announced it would push forward with the project, which, during construction, is expected to create more than 2,000 full-time equivalent jobs and $100 million in on- and off-site wages.

According to a statement released Thursday by WCD, the expansion is subject to a 31 percent minority-owned-business clause – 25 percent minority, 5 percent women-owned and 1 percent disabled veteran-owned – and 40 percent of on-site construction jobs will be earmarked for city and county residents.

WCD believes the expanded center will draw another 100,000 out-of-state convention visitors each year, bringing in at least $6.5 billion in total spending across a 30-year period and generating at least $150 million in incremental state income.

“The WCD Board has invested countless hours over the last two years providing input and guidance on the expansion project,” said Jim Kanter, WCD Board Chairman, in Thursday’s statement.

“From creating jobs to attracting visitors, this project sets our city up for immediate and future success. The WCD will serve as a sign of economic strength for the city of Milwaukee and join the rest of the development taking place west of the river. From ground-breaking to grand-opening, the expansion of the Wisconsin Center will be a real source of pride for all of Milwaukee.”

Consulting firm HVS predicts convention business will return to 2019 booking numbers again in 2023. That puts a 2024 ribbon cutting on the Milwaukee project in a good place in terms of drawing conventions to Brew City.

“I am thankful for and applaud the WCD Governance Committee for approving the resolution today to support the bonds needed to build the Wisconsin Center expansion,” said Peggy Williams-Smith, president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee.

“This is an investment in the future of Milwaukee that is long overdue. We know that meetings and conventions will return, and we want to be assured that Milwaukee makes the short list when they do. We know that this is the time to set ourselves up for future success. Meeting planners are booking now for 2023 and beyond, and we want to position the Wisconsin Center as the newest and best convention space amongst our peer group.”

You can find more information on the convention center expansion project at