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Summerfest approves up to $50 million for amphitheater remodeling project

They're poised to tear down the dressing rooms and raise the roof at Summerfest's American Family Insurance Amphitheater.

During Thursday's board meeting, Milwaukee World Festival, which runs the Big Gig, approved spending up to $50 million on the long-planned renovation project.

"This project is going forward," said Don Smiley, Summerfest's top executive. "We couldn't be more excited about it."

Summerfest officials said they will soon release renderings for the project.

Smiley told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the project will "begin in weeks" with demolition of the artist dressing rooms and preparation for raising the roof.

RELATED: Eppstein Uhen Architects will redesign Summerfest's American Family Insurance Amphitheater

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Smiley said the renovation will be done in two phases.

"We're going to raise the roof this year, late 2018, work into 2019," he said. "And the dressing rooms would be rebuilt at the same time as the roof is raised. Because structurally they're tied together."

Summerfest will keep the original roof, which will be sandblasted and painted. Currently, the roof's lowest structural beam is 39 feet above the stage. When the renovation is completed, the lowest beam will be 65 feet above the stage.

"That will enable us to put larger shows in the amphitheater, that have more video, more production, more everything in these days than when the building was built," Smiley said.

"We'll be ready to go in time for Summerfest '19," he said. "We'll operate Summerfest '19. And then after Summerfest '19, the second phase of the construction will include the entire building."

Smiley said the second phase will include renovation and reconstruction of ramps, railings, seating, concessions, restrooms and loading docks.

Before the board went into closed session to discuss the resolutions to fund the project, Smiley said consultants, engineers and designers have been hired since the board previously approved $2.8 million in expenditures for the project in 2017.

In February, it was announced that Eppstein Uhen Architects landed the contract to design the amphitheater.

Smiley said in developing goals and priorities for the amphitheater, there was a focus on patron amenities and the overall experience including hospitality, food and beverage points of sale and revenue areas.

"We must as a festival do more in the way of per-capita spending with each attendee that we have," he told the board.

Smiley said the amphitheater, which was originally completed in 1987, "served its purpose. It has done a great job over the last 30-some years. We've had just wonderful international recording stars come through the amphitheater. But things have changed obviously in the world of food and beverage as you'll see in almost any venue that you go to. That's a real big priority for us going forward."

Smiley said it's also important to improve the production capabilities and the band experience.

The project will be funded from Milwaukee World Festival reserve funds, future sponsorships and bank purchase bonds.

Bill Glauber
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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