Crews from Gilbane | Smith on Wednesday lifted the final beam for the exterior of the $456 million Wisconsin Center expansion project in front of government officials and media in Milwaukee, finishing the building superstructure and start to focus on interior construction.
A crane lifted a beam covered in workers’ signatures, bearing a U.S. flag, an Iron Workers Local 8 union flag and an evergreen tree.
The Wisconsin Center District (WCD) wants to double the size of the convention center to a total of more than 1.3 million square feet, President and CEO of WCD Marty Brooks said at a news conference. The project would create a total of 52 meeting rooms, 400 indoor parking spaces and a rooftop ballroom with 2,000 seats, he added.
District officials said construction would cost a total of $420 million in 2020, however the price has gone up to $456 million.
Speaking at a news conference, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers said the positive economic momentum from the project would be felt “across the state,” as well as promotion for Milwaukee jobs and sustainable building practices. The project includes a solar roof, use of recycled building materials and a food processing system to divert food waste, he noted.
“These kinds of forward-thinking building practices and innovation go hand in hand with economic development and growth… This center will be a key feature of this city and our state for years to come,” Evers added.
The Wisconsin Center project committed to using disadvantaged business obligations, including 25% minority-owned businesses, 5% women-owned businesses and 1% disabled veteran-owned businesses for construction, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said.
“I’m proud to see an organization dedicated not only to crafting the building Milwaukee needs, but also being intentional about the people who are building it,” Johnson noted.
A Residential Preference Program by the city brought a 40% goal of on-site work to be done by trades workers in Milwaukee’s most underserved zip codes, Johnson added.
“Many of those skilled workers were able to make their mark and write their names on the beam just last week. Their dedication to our city will be memorialized forever, making the Baird Center a generational source of pride for Milwaukeeans now and into the future,” Johnson said at a news conference.
The hospitality industry plays an essential role for economic development and an expanded convention center would bring more people to work, eat and stay in the city, Wisconsin Department of Tourism Secretary-Designee Anne Sayers remarked at the news conference.
“This year, the theme is travel forward, which recognizes the industry’s essential role in driving economic growth and innovation, and this event is a perfect way to celebrate. There are great things on the horizon for Milwaukee that embody this theme,” Sayers noted.
The project was approved in April of 2020, WCD Board of Directors Chairman James Kanter said at the news conference. The construction project is expected to wrap up in May of 2024, he added.
Some convention organizers who previously haven’t considered Milwaukee now have the city on their map because of this project, VISIT Milwaukee President and CEO Peggy Williams-Smith said at the news conference. The tourism bureau met with Connect Marketplace 2024 and the U.S. National Guard and was in talks with the Veterans of Foreign Wars, she added.
Every steel plate, bolt and connection was designed by over 60 structural engineers local to Milwaukee, GRAEF project lead structural engineer Mike Vogel told The Daily Reporter.
As previously reported by The Daily Reporter, WCD entered into a 15-year agreement with Robert W. Baird and Co. to give the company naming rights.
The WCD board in August of 2022 said it needed an additional $20 million for the project, citing inflation and supply shortages.