Consultants are saying it will take between $247 million and $277 million to expand Milwaukee’s convention center, up from a previous estimate of $225 million to $275 million.
Officials with Crossroads Consulting Services, of Tampa, Florida, and Populous, of Kansas City, released reports on Friday containing those revised cost estimates. They are recommending that the Wisconsin Center’s exhibit space, ballroom and meeting rooms be given between 422,800 and 437,800 square feet of space. They now have 265,800 square feet.
The proposed expansion project also calls for the construction of onsite parking, renovations to the existing part of the center and an elevated connection over Kilbourne Avenue.
Officials say a bigger center is needed to attract more conventions and trade shows. They also say that, if the expansion goes forward is planned, an additional 1,000 new hotel rooms will be needed within walking distance of the center.
The biggest question hanging over the project now is: How will it be paid for? The convention center is owned by the Wisconsin Center District, which also operates the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena and the Milwaukee Theatre and will take over the new Bucks arena once that project is finished.
The district has the capacity to borrow about $200 million for the proposed expansion, which is not enough to complete the project. The district now gets revenue from taxes places on car rentals, hotel rooms and food-and-beverage sales in Milwaukee County.
To bring in more money, the center could raise its hotel-room tax from 2.5 percent to 3 percent. Any other sort of increase would require approval from the state Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans.