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Smiley says Summerfest Will Raise Amphitheater Roof, Revamp Children's Area

The remodeling of Summerfest’s American Family Amphitheater will extend the roof by more than 60 percent in height, but Summerfest CEO Don Smiley also is strategizing another major overhaul in the festival grounds’ children’s areas.

Smiley discussed both future projects with Milwaukee Business Journal editor-in-chief Mark Kass Thursday evening on the Captain’s Deck near the Harley-Davidson stage. The interview ran on the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Facebook Live feed.

This year, Summerfest successfully debuted the US Cellular Connection Stageand the Klement’s Sausage & Beer Garden. On the schedule for replacement before the 2019 fest is the Uline Warehouse stage on the north end of the property.

Smiley said he anticipates the major remodeling of the amphitheater and a revamp of the children’s area simultaneously with a 2020 completion.

Construction of the new amphitheater is expected to cost from $30 million to $35 million. The project will advance the venue’s technology and audio equipment to modern levels, Smiley said.

Summerfest officials are involved in the design right now on the project. Eppstein Uhen Architects of Milwaukee will design the new 23,000-seat American Family Insurance Amphitheater.

The amphitheater roof currently is 38 feet tall and after remodeling, the roof will stand 62 to 64 feet high, Smiley said.

“That will allow us to sign bigger bands, bigger shows,” Smiley said. “A lot of the big touring shows are carrying more audio and more video with them and the (support) beam is taller than the roof structure that we have at this point. We’ll be in the market for some bands that we haven’t been able to get.”

As for the children’s areas, Smiley said he’s been contemplating a project for a few years, but it’s taken a back seat to new stages and other projects. He envisions the project encompassing what is now the sports-demonstration area, the children’s theater, the playground and restrooms.

“We need to take that whole footprint and just demolish it and just start over,” he said in an interview after the Facebook live segment. “When you look at it, it’s a fairly sizable piece of land.”

The cost of the children’s-area project could run from $1 million to $5 million “depending on what we want to do, what we want to include,” Smiley said.

Another factor, of course, will be identifying funding sources.

“We’re going to have to go out and raise some money,” he said. “A sponsor or a foundation or a family that would like to put their name on a children’s park here at Henry Maier Festival Park.

Smiley said he would like to make the revamped children’s area available during non-festival days. For example, Summerfest could make it available to kids on field trips at nearby Discovery World or the Milwaukee Art Museum, he said.

“I really would like that to be available to families to enjoy lake breezes,” he said.

Rich Kirchen
Milwaukee Business Journal

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