December 28, 2017

Plans Fall 2020 Opening of New Milwaukee Symphony Center


Milwaukee, Wis. December 29, 2017 – The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO) announced today that it has acquired the former Warner Grand Theater building on West Wisconsin Avenue, which will serve as the MSO’s dedicated performance center, once renovated. Closing is anticipated by December 31, 2017 and grand opening of the future Milwaukee Symphony Center is expected in the Fall of 2020.

Since announcing the donor-led initiative to restore the historic Warner Grand Theater into a spectacular performance venue for the MSO, community support has galvanized for this project.  Donors and patrons alike have recognized that the Warner Grand Theater’s size, accessible location and outstanding acoustics, along with its grandeur and rich history, would deliver a one-of-a-kind, first class patron experience, spur additional development along West Wisconsin Avenue, and better position the MSO for long-term financial, operational and creative success.

“More people than ever before are choosing to attend our inspiring performances and there is tremendous community interest in fostering a thriving MSO. Closing on the acquisition of the Warner Grand Theater is a significant step in both our artistic and financial future,” said Mark Niehaus, president & executive director of the MSO. “We remain humbled and grateful to our donors and the greater Milwaukee community, whose response to this effort to-date has been amazing. Together, we are investing in both the MSO and Milwaukee’s reputation as a vibrant, culturally-significant home and destination.”

The MSO has assembled an experienced team of architects, engineers, construction managers, land use experts, patron experience professionals, and others to oversee the totality of the Warner Grand Theater restoration, once it begins.  It was determined that a Fall 2020 grand opening date was ideal given the cost savings realized with a more deliberate construction schedule.

With control over its own venue, along with new revenue streams from facility rental fees, catering and concessions, a dedicated MSO performance space would help drive increases in annual earned revenue by as much as 60 percent. The MSO would also have greater flexibility to schedule marquee guest performers and conductors who typically require substantial multi-year lead notice for performance requests.

“Like so many others, my family and I share a vision for Milwaukee that centers around a vibrant cultural life and a downtown where people young and old want to live, work, grow their families and build their lives,” said David Uihlein. “We firmly believe that the creation of the Milwaukee Symphony Center will not only positively impact our community, but is the right move to create a financial and operating model that befits the MSO moving forward.  It is that combination of meaningful community impact and smart business decision that inspired my family and me to make the largest philanthropic gift we have ever made. I am grateful that The Bradley Foundation and others share the view that this project is a worthy investment, and I hope others do the same.”

Once complete, the Milwaukee Symphony Center will deliver a one-of-a kind, first class patron experience that will create magical, memorable experiences for patrons. Its size, accessible location, outstanding acoustics and more make an ideal canvas to reclaim this historical venue as a modern day community asset. In addition to restoring its former grandeur, plans for the Milwaukee Symphony Center include a number of community, education and collaboration spaces, ample lit and accessible parking options, onsite catering, easy curb-side drop off/pick up, and more.  

“There is a long list of people who have been instrumental in this effort, and to whom we will be forever grateful” said Niehaus. “In addition to the leadership by David Uihlein, Julia Uihlein, and The Bradley Foundation, we are immensely grateful to Steve and Greg Marcus and The Marcus Corporation for donating their ownership of the Warner Grand Theater to the campaign.  Moreover, we have benefitted immensely from the counsel and stewardship of Steve Chernof of Godfrey & Kahn and Bob Monnat of Mandel Group. They, along with so many others, are demonstrating the incredible impact that can be achieved when the community joins together to achieve a vision such as ours.”

While the most visible aspect of this campaign is the building acquisition and remodel, the totality of the effort includes other vital initiatives to best position the MSO for the long-term, such as expanding the MSO’s endowment for the ongoing benefit of future programming and eliminating the liability associated with the MSO’s previous pension plan. The project enables a business model that allows for the growth of both earned and contributed revenue, while also eliminating any remaining structural deficits, and is the most complete path forward for the MSO to achieve continued stability and make even greater contributions to the cultural vibrancy of Milwaukee.
“From day one, this campaign has been about more than a building,” said Andy Nunemaker, chairman of the board of the MSO. “Rather, we are setting a new path for the MSO that puts it in control of its own artistic and operational destiny, free of extraordinary fundraising or other dramatic measures needed to compensate for challenges associated with an evolving business model.”

The MSO was approved by the State of Wisconsin for over $8 million in historic tax credits, and recently received conditional approval for Federal historic tax credits, as well. Both will provide tremendous renovation cost savings, and will further maximize donor investments on what is already a cost effective project. Compared to new construction venue projects across the country, the costs associated with developing the Milwaukee Symphony Center are estimated to be 50-66 percent less expensive.


Strengthening the MSO’s Impact

Every year, the MSO performs over 135 concerts and fosters music appreciation among all ages and walks of life. Through its nationally acclaimed Arts in Community Education (ACE) program, the MSO reaches more than 7,600 students through in-school arts instruction and entertains 40,000 students from schools throughout the greater Milwaukee area as part of the MSO’s “Concerts for Schools” series.

The MSO is also a vital contributor to the greater Milwaukee economy, with studies showing a quantifiable economic impact of more than $39 million per year. Over 100,000 patrons annually come to downtown Milwaukee for MSO concerts, bringing ancillary revenue to the local economy in the form of meals, parking, childcare, and other entertainment spending beyond ticket sales.

The MSO’s 2016.17 season marked the fourth consecutive year the organization achieved a balanced budget, delivering an 11.5 percent increase in earned revenue over the record-breaking 2015.16 season. Notably, performance revenue from concerts outside the orchestra’s primary venue, such as the Ravinia Festival in Chicago, Pabst Theater and Riverside Theater, more than doubled that of the previous season. New households continued to experience first-hand the power of music at the MSO, with more than 4,700 new households purchasing tickets last season

In total, the MSO reached more than 200,000 patrons last season, over 100,000 of whom experienced the MSO in venues other than the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.  This holiday season alone, the MSO has performed for over 30,000 patrons during 26 performances at nine separate venues.  With control over its own venue, the MSO will have even greater ability to schedule the right mix of performances that will allow it to garner more earned revenue during this prime performance season, while still bringing the beauty and comfort of the holidays into community churches, theaters and other venues.


About the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra

The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra is among the finest orchestras in the nation and the largest cultural institution in Wisconsin. The MSO’s musicians perform over 135 classics, pops, family, education, and community concerts each season in venues throughout the state. Since its inception in 1959, the MSO has found innovative ways to give music a home in the region, develop music appreciation and talent among area youth, and raise the national reputation of Milwaukee.

The MSO’s standard of excellence extends beyond the concert hall and into the community, reaching more than 40,000 children and their families through its Arts in Community Education (ACE) program, Youth and Teen concerts, Family Series, Meet the Music pre-concert talks, and Friday Evening post-concert talkbacks.