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Marcus Center releases plans for overhaul of performing-arts buildings

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The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts released plans on Friday for a wide-ranging overhaul that should put its building complex in downtown Milwaukee in a good position for the next half-century.

The multi-phase project, coinciding with the organization’s 50th anniversary season next year, calls both for renovating the arts center’s interior and overhauling public spaces on its campus near Milwaukee City Hall. The work is to be guided largely by a master plan drawn up through a partnership among HGA Architects, CG Schmidt and Schuler Shook Theater Consultants.

Among other things, project designers are seeking to ensure the Marcus Center complements plans to turn the adjacent Intercontinental Hotel into an art-center hotel named Saint Kate the Arts Hotel. Construction on the 2019-room hotel at 139 E. Kilbourn Ave. is scheduled to begin this year and wrap up in mid-2019.

“Over the last 18 months, the Marcus Center has engaged in a strategic planning process with a broad cross-section of the community to develop a vision for the campus that will lead the Center to another 50 years of success,” said Paul Mathews, president and chief executive of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. “We’re proud to reveal that new vision, which will create an even more open and accessible gathering place for the entire community, while establishing a solid financial foundation for the Center’s future.”

The renovation’s first phase is scheduled to begin this spring and wrap up ahead of the Marcus Center’s 2019-2020 50th anniversary season. The Marcus Center grounds will then be overhauled in a series of phases over the next three to five years.

The Marcus Center did not disclose the project’s total cost on Friday. Milwaukee County, however, plans to contribute $10 million to the project.

The overhaul plans specifically call for the installation of clear glass in the part of the building facing Water Street and the replacement of walks and other pavement outside the building.

Other plans call for expanding the center’s plaza, installing new water fountains and setting aside new green areas, including a “great lawn” that can be used for events. The campus grounds will also get new street-level lighting and technological features such as exterior video screens. The war memorial there will be moved to a “more prominent site” on the property, according to a news release.

“The Center is excited to work collaboratively with the Marcus Corporation in the creation of a multi-block area and programming strategies that will serve as a true destination for Milwaukee,” said David Marcus, member of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts board.

The plans also touch on the center’s theaters. Uihlein Hall will be renovated, giving it new seats and aisles and renovations to its concession areas and dressing rooms, among other things. The center’s Todd Wehr Theater will separately get a new entrance opening up to a section of Milwaukee’s riverwalk just west of the center.

“We are thrilled by the new vision for the Marcus Center, which will create significant new opportunities for First Stage as well as each of the other resident organizations,” said Betsy Corry, managing director of the theater group First Stage. “It builds on the best of the last 50 years, while ensuring a bright future as the region’s world-class gathering place for all.”

The Marcus Center last year signed a 99-year-long lease with Milwaukee County, not long after the ownership of center appeared likely to shift to the Wisconsin Center District, which now owns the Fiserv Forum, the downtown Milwaukee convention center and other event venues. When lawmakers passed a law in 2015 providing $250 million worth of incentives for the Fiserv Forum, they included a provision meant to transfer the Marcus Center from Milwaukee County to the Center District board. Those plans were later abandoned after both the county and Marcus Center officials protested.

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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