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New construction coming to Summerfest (UPDATE)

Summerfest_klh From left, Ted Kellner, chairman of Milwaukee World Festival, Inc., Don Smiley, president and chief executive of Milwaukee World Festival Inc. and Jack Salzwedel, chairman, chief executive and president of American Family Insurance answer questions while standing with a conceptional drawing of a new amphitheater Thursday, Jan 26 at the Summerfest offices in Milwaukee. Milwaukee World Festival Inc., and American Family Insurance announced their new 10-year-partnership, a new 23,000-square-foot amphitheater, as well as a new North Gate and Plaza project and community outreach program. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Ted Kellner (from left), chairman of Milwaukee World Festival Inc.; Don Smiley, president and chief executive of Milwaukee World Festival Inc.; and Jack Salzwedel, chairman, chief executive and president of American Family Insurance show a conceptional drawing of a new amphitheater on Thursday at the Summerfest offices in Milwaukee. Milwaukee World Festival and American Family Insurance on Thursday announced their new 10-year-partnership, a new 23,000-square-foot amphitheater, as well as a new north gate and plaza project. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Welcome to Summerfest, sponsored by American Family Insurance.

Thanks to a new 10-year partnership between the Madison-based insurance giant and event organizer Milwaukee World Festival Inc., festival-goers will be hearing and seeing a lot from the insurance company.

For starters, the Marcus Amphitheater on the Summerfest grounds’ south end will become the American Family Insurance Amphitheater after a new $30 million to $35 million, 23,000-seat structure is built at the same site. Construction on that project is expected to start in 2019 or 2020. The current amphitheater, which opened in 1987, also has 23,000 seats.

Separately, Milwaukee World officials plan to have a new north-gate box office and plaza built at the festival grounds in late 2017, not long after the 50th annual Summerfest concert series wraps up.

Don Smiley, president and chief executive officer of Milwaukee World Festival, said the current Marcus Amphitheater structure will be replaced, save for its roof, which will be renovated. The replacement amphitheater will have new restaurants, hospitality areas, restrooms and various types of “customer-facing technology and customer-facing amenities.”

As with many previous projects at the festival grounds, organizers are working on these latest plans with Milwaukee-based Eppstein Uhen Architects. Smiley said he does not yet know exactly when the work will be put out to bid.

He said the improvements will allow the festival to continue attracting some of the best-known acts from around the world. Recent Summerfest headliners include The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney.

“We are competing on a global basis,” said Smiley, at a news conference held at Milwaukee World Festival’s headquarters on the Summerfest grounds.

Greg Marcus, president and chief executive of Milwaukee-based Marcus Corp., praised American Family for its contribution but conceded that it’s “bittersweet” to know that Summerfest will eventually become associated with another name. Greg’s father, Stephen, provided $1 million in 1986 to help pay for the construction of the Marcus amphitheater.

“But we have to move on,” Greg Marcus said.

And it won’t only be the new amphitheater that bears the American Family Insurance name. The festival itself is being redubbed Summerfest presented by American Family Insurance.

Jack Salzwedel, chairman, chief executive and president of the insurance company, said the sponsorship deal will put American Family’s logo “in front of the million people who are coming through those turnstiles every year.” Salzwedel declined to say how much American Family was paying for the naming rights.

He said American Family had initially talked to Summerfest officials merely about building a new north-end box office. He and others at Thursday’s meeting said the discussions started between 12 and 14 months ago and became more serious within the past six months.

All told, Smiley said, these latest projects will cap off roughly $125 million worth of work that is expected to have taken place at the festival site, in Milwaukee’s Henry Maier Festival Park, between 2006 and 2020.

Other recent announcements have included plans to renovate the festival ground’s Miller Lite Oasis stage in time for the 2017 festival. The work is to include a redesign of the stage’s facade, the construction of a new Miller Lite Brew House bar, improvements to video screens, the addition of bar areas, the expansion of hospitality areas and the reconfiguration of a marketplace and retail store.

Eppstein Uhen Architects is in charge of the project’s design and Brookfield-based Hunzinger Construction Co. will oversee the construction work. The two firms have a lengthy history of working with Milwaukee World Festival.

Separately, festival organizers announced plans in December to have the festival ground’s U.S. Cellular Stage replaced with a bigger venue, one capable of holding 9,000 festival goers. That work, which is to be completed in time for the 2018 festival, will include a 25-foot LED screen, a redesigned bar area and a charging station for electronic devices.

Summerfest will run from June 28 to July 9 this year. The music festival draws about 850,000 people a year on average to see more than 800 acts perform on 11 stages. The music festival first took place in 1968.

 

About Dan Shaw, dan.shaw@dailyreporter.com

Dan Shaw is the associate editor at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at dan.shaw@dailyreporter.com or at 414-225-1807.

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