Crews are making headway on the second phase of an overhaul of Summerfest’s American Family Insurance Amphitheater — the largest building project festival organizers have ever undertaken.
Although winter came early to the lakefront job site this year, a crew of 60 or so — led by Hunzinger Construction — is continuing to work on a two-year overhaul of the 23,000-seat arena, which the company expects to complete by next summer. The project calls for demolishing much of the old Marcus Amphitheater, which was built in 1987, and replacing it with an arena big enough to accommodate some of the largest acts to come to the annual music festival.
Plans for the $53 million project’s first phase called for raising a 600,000-pound section of the roof of the stadium by 26 feet, a hurdle crews cleared last winter. The taller roof modernizes the arena, making it more “dramatic,” said Bob Gosse, director of design and construction at Milwaukee World Festival, the operator of Summerfest.
“Every seat is an excellent seat in the house,” he said. “From a performer’s standpoint, it really is spectacular, it is really intimate.”
Much of the overhaul’s second phase will bring better accommodations to fans. Central to the work is the installation of 25,000 square feet of decking on the arena’s north and south sides, additions that will offer both views of the downtown skyline and new concession areas. The project has so far employed 567 construction workers, officials say.
Previously, many patrons had to leave the venue to buy food and drinks, said Jason Stuewe, an architectural designer at Milwaukee World Festival. The new arena will have six concession areas, instead of the two in the previous version.
“Food and beverage were previously not available,” Stuewe said “Patrons had to go down three flights of stairs to get those amenities.”
Among other improvements, the project’s second phase will double the number of women’s restrooms in the amphitheater. The work will also add an elevator and new accessible seating with better sight-lines. The plans also call for installing walkways in the concert bowl, replacing seating and providing private VIP areas with exclusive entrances.
Officials say the project is now 64% completed and is on schedule to open by June.