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Bronzeville Center of the Arts’ African American Arts Center fails to pass Madison budget request vote

Bronzeville Center for the Arts

(Rendering by Wilson & Ford Design Studios)

Gov. Tony Evers’ proposal on Thursday for the state to fund an arts and cultural center in Milwaukee and a convention center for Janesville failed to pass the latest State Building Commission meeting in Madison.

Commission members voted 4-4 on every motion in the full committee meeting and rejected nearly $3.8 billion in state infrastructure investments, the governor’s office said. The rejected projects included $54.9 million in cash and gifts for the Bronzeville Center of the Arts’ African American Arts Center and $50.5 million in cash and gifts for the Woodman’s Sports and Convention Center in Janesville. 

“Our capital budget addressed critical infrastructure needs across our state in a way that kept borrowing low, saved the taxpayer’s money in the long run, and created critical local jobs and economic development. While Republican leaders claim to support these goals, their action today shows that they would simply rather play politics than have a meaningful discussion about how these projects would serve the needs of the folks they represent. Despite today’s unfortunate outcome, we will continue to fight for these projects as we work to invest in and build 21st century infrastructure in communities across our state,” Gov. Evers said in a statement. 

State Rep. Rob Swearingen (R – Rhinelander,) State Rep. Robert Wittke (R – Racine,) State Sen. Joan Ballweg (R – Markesan) and State Sen. André Jacque (R – De Pere) all voted “No,” in the full commission meeting. The vote happened without discussion.

Bronzeville Center of the Arts (BCA) wants to build a 50,000-square-foot museum and event space in the footprint of the former Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources building in Milwaukee, nonprofit officials said.

Gov. Tony Evers visited with art center officials in early March and proposed $5 million to help build the center as part of his $3.8 billion budget for projects across the state.

BCA Executive Committee Chair Kristen Hardy told The Daily Reporter she talked with the governor and said the project had potential to bring in tourists from all around the country.

“We talked about the importance of a project like this not just in Milwaukee, but the project as a state aspect and how we believe it has the ability to bring tourists from all around the country,” Hardy said.

State Sen. Lena Taylor (D – Milwaukee) told The Daily Reporter she was “not shocked, but disappointed” by Thursday’s vote in regards to the Bronzeville arts center.

“I wish I could say I’m surprised. It is still disappointing because tourism, the arts, music and agriculture are places that allow for people of all walks of life to interact. In a community where we are hyper segregated, the state where we have had the top two places to be the worst place to raise a Black child. I wish for a commitment across all party lines, houses and Legislature for a commitment to want to invest so we can not be that,” Taylor said. 

Janesville officials wanted to build a multipurpose convention space, events space and arena for events like conventions, car shows, and meals for hundreds of people, Janesville Director of Public Works Mike Payne told The Daily Reporter in an interview.

The city reviewed designs since the beginning of 2022 and had around 16 public design meetings, and the city council pledged $17.3 million to bring the project off the ground, Payne said. The project received millions of dollars from private donors and submitted a federal grant, he added.

About Ethan Duran

Ethan Duran is the construction and development reporter at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (414) 551-7505 or [email protected]

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