Milwaukee is on the cusp of a huge year for events in 2020. The Democratic National Convention is bringing its event to Brew City in June; the Ryder Cup is coming to nearby Kohler, which VISIT Milwaukee’s new president and CEO Peggy Williams-Smith says is already bringing in pre-visits to the city; and Airbnb recently named the city its No. 1 trending destination for 2020 after seeing a 729% year-over-year growth in bookings.
Even the largest travel writing conference in the world—The Society of American Travel Writers—will bring 300 expert travel journalists to Milwaukee for its annual conference in October 2020.
With all this buzz, it’s safe to say that this Midwestern hotspot is trending up—and as it prepares for its time in the spotlight in 2020, Milwaukee is getting a facelift.
Major investments are getting pumped into the city’s many major neighborhoods, and both new and returning visitors to Milwaukee will walk in impressed.
Developments totaling $5 billion are injecting new life into Milwaukee’s neighborhoods with projects such as a new sports arena, hotels, a streetcar, and office and residential buildings.
One neighborhood that’s undergoing a resurgence is Westown. The district, located just west of the Milwaukee River and known as the historic heart of the city’s German community, has significantly expanded its offerings as the entertainment, sports and convention hub of the city.
The Wisconsin Center, the city’s 188,695-square-foot convention center, has brought meetings to Westown since it opened in 1998. Along with the center, the Miller High Life Theatre and the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena make up the city’s convention campus. It’s new developments and venues are keeping attendees in Westown after the meeting.
“Westown has long been at the center of Milwaukee’s convention and meetings experiences, with our convention center complex located right in its heart,” explained Lindsey McKee, communications manager for VISIT Milwaukee.
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“Continued development in Westown is making this neighborhood even more attractive to visitors and attendees, creating opportunities beyond the convention center to gather together whether for formal meetings or informal conventiongoer group activities,” she added.
Fiserv Forum Adds to Westown’s Sports and Entertainment
One of the biggest projects in Westown is the Fiserv Forum arena and its entertainment block, named Deer District. This is the new home of the Milwaukee Bucks NBA and Marquette University basketball teams as well as a venue for concerts and events.
Milwaukee Bucks Entertainment Block, Credit: VISIT Milwaukee
The $524 million Fiserv Forum opened in August 2018 just blocks from the Wisconsin Center convention complex and major convention hotels, such as the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee and the Hilton Milwaukee City Center.
Also nearby is the new 150-room Hyatt Place Milwaukee Downtown, which also opened in mid-2018 and is housed in the former Pabst Brewing Company complex.
Milwaukee Bucks Entertainment Block, Credit: VISIT Milwaukee
The 714,000-square-foot Fiserv Forum was not just built for Milwaukee Bucks and Marquette basketball, but also as a space for large-scale events, small receptions or corporate meetings and outings. Various sized meeting rooms and event spaces, an onsite restaurant for private group dining and box seats overlooking the arena’s main floor are some of the highlights for groups. The facility can host 18,000 for a concert or other large-scale event.
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The atrium space is located directly inside the main entrance and can hold up to 400 people. Groups can also rent multiple club rooms, a boardroom, a green room and the arena floor.
The Fiserv Forum arena floor can be used for tradeshows, concerts, receptions and banquets.
The 30-acre Deer District surrounding Fiserv Forum is expected to become the largest development project undertaken in downtown Milwaukee in the coming years, with additional entertainment, residential and commercial spaces planned.
Drink Wisconsibly Pub, Credit: VISIT Milwaukee
Deer District is already home to Good City Brewing brewery, Punch Bowl Social “eatertainment” and Drink Wisconsinbly pub, which can host attendees for a private event or pre-game food and drink.
A block away is another sports venue, the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
The facility is home to multiple teams:
- UW-Milwaukee Panthers men’s basketball team
- Milwaukee Admirals professional hockey team
- Milwaukee Wave professional indoor soccer team
- Brewcity Bruisers amateur roller derby league
UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena has also hosted an array of college and professional basketball, hockey, concerts, motorsports and private events. The arena, which finished an improvement project in 2016, can accommodate 12,700 people.
Westown’s Entertainment and Event Venues
The Miller High Life Theatre is part of the city’s convention campus and features the main 4,087-seat theater and adjacent rotunda lobby, which can host 1,000 guests, as well as two attached side halls, Kilbourn and Plankinton.
Additional Westown theaters and cultural venues include:
- Riverside Theater: One of the city’s most opulent theaters is named for its location along the Milwaukee River and can seat 2,480 people.
- Turner Hall Ballroom: Constructed in 1882, it began as a showplace for the panoramic painters and other German immigrant artists. The two-story, 7,000-square-foot ballroom can accommodate nearly 1,000 people.
Additionally, Turner Hall Ballroom is the only building in Milwaukee that currently holds the three following honorary architectural and historical designations: a National Landmark, a listing on the National Registry of Historic Places and a local Historical Landmark.
Pabst Complex, Credit: VISIT Milwaukee
When the original Pabst Brewery shut its doors in the late 1990s in Milwaukee after nearly two centuries in business, the historic buildings that were once part of Pabst Brewing in Westown received new life. Here are some that have event space:
Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery, Credit: VISIT Milwaukee
Westown’s diversifying mix of sports arenas, entertainment and cultural venues, as well as plenty of meeting and convention space, make this Midwestern ’hood a great option for planners looking to bring groups to the Milwaukee area.
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This article was originally published in June 2019 and updated February 2020.