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Wisconsin Center names architectural team for convention center project; CEO calls for gender-neutral restrooms

An architecture firm that’s handled projects in New York City, Las Vegas and Nashville will team with Milwaukee’s Eppstein Uhen Architects on the $300 million expansion of Milwaukee’s downtown convention center as the building’s CEO called for contemporary design, including gender-neutral restrooms.

EUA and tvsdesign of Atlanta were announced Thursday as the top choice of the public Wisconsin Center District, beating six other teams that interviewed for the work.

The Atlanta-based architectural firm has made its mark on iconic spaces including the College Football Hall of Fame and Mercedes-Benz Stadium clubs. The firm is a leading convention center designer nationally and internationally with projects including the Las Vegas Convention Center expansion, the Music City Center in Nashville, McCormick Place in Chicago and the Jacob K. Javits Center in New York City.

The new architectural team and the construction manager, which will be named by mid-January 2020, will play a lead role in determining the scope and updating the cost estimate of the project by early March, said Mike Abrams, senior director for the district’s owner’s representative CAA ICON. The Wisconsin Center District plans to break ground by March 2021 or April 2021, said president CEO Marty Brooks.

EUA president Rich Tennessen said his firm reached out to tvsdesign to partner because the Atlanta firm has “the most experience” and “knew what was happening in terms of the future of convention centers.”

“We established that relationship and it’s really worked out to be a great team,” Tennessen said during a press conference Thursday. “They have the same type of attitude of doing what’s right for Milwaukee — really making this a destination center.”

Conceptual renderings of the project likely will be completed by the second quarter of 2020, Abrams said.

While details are yet to be determined, Tennessen and Brooks both discussed relating the design with recent projects along North Vel R. Phillips Avenue including the Grand Avenue redevelopment to the south and the new Deer District to the north.

The expansion northward toward West Kilbourn Avenue probably won’t mimic the existing Wisconsin Center that opened in 1998.

“I look at the variety of architecture currently in Milwaukee and you see what’s developed in the Deer District,” Brooks said. “It’s a very different style and I would hope that the design we go for for the expansion reflects the ever-changing face of Milwaukee — the new Milwaukee. I want to make sure that something is done that is current but also has legs to last another 50 years or so.”

Tennessen said one reason tvsdesign is well-suited to this project is that the firm is not wedded to one particular style.

“It’s responsive to what’s happening not only in that locale but in that immediate area,” Tennessen said. “We look at this broader than just the district itself — Grand Avenue through the Deer District. This piece is a really important connection to help stitch the city fabric together.”

Among Brooks’ goals for the building’s interior is ensuring ample restroom facilities.

First of all, Brooks said he wants the number of restrooms to exceed city code minimum requirements and include “the right percentage of male versus female” restrooms.

“I want to make sure that we have an experience that is a positive as it can be — not that I waited 20 minutes to get to a facility,” Brooks said.

The other aspect of restrooms that Brooks wants is “gender neutral” bathrooms.

“We have to understand that that community needs to be accommodated and we want to do so without compromising the level of facilities and service we’re offering to other users of our facilities,” he said.

Rich Kirchen
Milwaukee Business Journal