Associated Bank announced a $10 million sponsorship agreement Thursday with the Milwaukee Repertory Theater for the theater’s new home, which will be named Associated Bank Theater Center through 2042.
Milwaukee Rep plans to build a new theater complex at its current site downtown on East Wells Street, completely redoing two of its three theaters as well as expanding its facilities into some little-used loading dock space.
The Associated Bank agreement is a significant plank in the Rep’s $75 million campaign to build the new theater complex. A substantial amount has already been raised, Milwaukee Rep Executive Director Chad Bauman said during a Zoom interview. He promised that an update on the campaign plus detailed information on building plans would be made public in November or December.
The Rep structure, which it owns, is attached to the Associated Bank River Center. An Associated affiliate bought the 28-story, 373,000-square-foot office tower formerly known as the Milwaukee Center in 2016 for $60.5 million. It’s been redeveloping the site. Earlier in September, Associated revealed that a new bar named Vault, quick-service dining and a coffee shop are coming to the site.
“We couldn’t be more proud to provide this enduring commitment to their mission and to making Milwaukee a more vibrant place to live and work,” said Andy Harmening, president and CEO of Associated Bank, headquartered in Green Bay.
“It’s very rare nationwide to see a corporation step up to name a building for an arts and culture facility,” Bauman said.
Milwaukee Rep moved into building in 1987
Milwaukee Rep moved into its present home in 1987. The present Baker Theater Complex includes its main stage, the Quadracci Powerhouse (720 seats); the Stiemke Studio (205 seats); and the Stackner Cabaret (186 seats). The Stackner has a full-service restaurant and bar. The complex also includes rehearsal spaces, administrative offices and work areas for many designers, artisans and craftspeople.
“Theater has changed since we moved into our current home in the 1980s — and so has our community. While it has served us well for four decades, our aging and inefficient complex limits the productions we stage, the plays we develop, and the kind of educational impact we create,” Bauman said in a statement announcing the sponsorship.
In a Zoom interview, Bauman said the Rep plans to take the Stiemke and Powerhouse spaces down to the studs and rebuild, adding more seats to the Stiemke but installing fewer in the Powerhouse, and upgrading technology everywhere. The Stackner will receive only minor changes, because a complete renovation of that space finished in 2018 was actually the first part of this long-range rebuilding campaign, Bauman said.
Technical changes will enhance what the Rep can do on stage. For example, in its current configuration, the Powerhouse doesn’t have a fly loft for whisking scenery away, but the rebuilt theater will, Bauman said.
Here’s some happy news for anyone who’s ever waited in line during intermission: the rebuilt theater complex will have “quite a few more new bathrooms,” Bauman said.
When will construction of Milwaukee Rep’s new home start?
Under the current timeline, construction would begin in late 2023 and conclude in mid-2025. The Rep will stagger work on its theaters so two can be operating while a third is being worked on, Bauman said. It is possible the Rep may also use an alternate space elsewhere during the construction period, he added.
The rebuild will also include Replacing outdated physical systems and technology. In some instances, parts aren’t even made for them anymore, Bauman said.
It will create a new education and engagement center, with multiple classrooms for its educational programs. The Rep serves 20,000 students a year from more than 200 schools and community groups, Bauman said.
The Rep is working with Eppstein Uhen Architects, Hunzinger Construction and Chamberlin LLC on the project.
In a typical nonpandemic year, the Rep brings more than 300,000 people into its theaters.
Milwaukee Rep has been in the quiet phase of fundraising for this project for some time, while also navigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. It had to cancel 68 performances, or nearly 10% of the 700 it had scheduled last season, due to positive COVID-19 tests.
The most painful loss: two weeks of sold-out performances of “Titanic the Musical,” which prompted the theater’s decision to bring “Titanic” back as its showcase musical this autumn.
Planning for significant additional expenses for understudies and inflation in the coming season, Milwaukee Rep’s board of trustees has agreed to use 10% of its cash reserves, “but we are forecasting a return to normal operations in the 2023-’24 season,” Bauman wrote in an email message.
Journal Sentinel reporter Tom Daykin contributed to this story. Contact Jim Higgins at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @jhiggy.
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