As part of a long-term effort to upgrade the Henry Maier Festival Park, Milwaukee World Festival, Inc. launched a $51 million plan to rebuild and enhance the American Family Insurance Amphitheater in time for Summerfest 2020.
Of course, there was no Big Gig in 2020, so now the revamped Amp will officially open on July 30, when Foo Fighters headline.
Another 18 concerts have been announced so far for the season.
The new amp – which sits on the site of the previous one and which reused much of the previous infrastructure, including the seating bowl – was enlarged to accommodate bigger touring productions and upgraded to enhance accessibility and boost the user experience.
"We're rebuilding everything that the patron is going to see and touch,” said Summerfest Architectural Designer and Project Manager Jason Stuewe when we got a look at the progress in 2019.
”It's going to feel like a 100 percent new venue."
And it really does feel that way. It feels more comfortable, with more elbow room.
The list of upgrades is long.
There is 25,000 more square feet of new concourses that include more VIP and other areas with bars, lounges and dedicated restrooms, plus enhanced food and beverage retail options, as well as improved accessibility, including an elevator that serves all the concourses.
The new concourse and VIP areas on the north end offer skyline views as well as good sightlines into the neighboring BMO Harris Pavilion.
A new third-level north concourse will provide amenities for 14,000 upper-level patrons that previously had to descend to lower levels for access.
There are now 15 bars, up from eight.
Patrons will also be happy to hear that there are more restrooms and the number of women’s toilets has more than doubled.
The seating bowl has been reconfigured and there are new seats and bleachers with improved sightlines, as well as accessibility upgrades like raised viewing platforms, a new path along the top of the bleachers and nearly twice as many aisles serving the seating areas.
That means rows that once were more than 70 seats long are now between 30 and 45 seats long.
Additional seats in the bleacher areas will make up for ones lost to the extra aisles. In the end the venue capacity will go up slightly, but will be roughly the same as before.
Answering a long-requested need, all seats (not counting the bleachers) now have cup holders!
A large front section of seating is removable for concerts that demand a pit.
There are new high-definition video screens and digital displays throughout.
Stuewe said that the stage was elevated from its original three feet and the entire venue repositioned to improve sightlines from every seat thanks to a new focal point.
Ceiling fans installed under the roof will help circulate air and when set to run in reverse can draw out hot air from the seating bowl below.
Concourses and stairways have large wayfinding signage and panels installed throughout the venue feature snippets of song lyrics from artists who have performed in the amp.
Along the main entrance ramp is a new Hall of Fame wall honoring previous performers as well as donors.
A larger stage, with a roof that soars to 65 feet (it was 39 before), means Summerfest now has the capacity to book touring acts with large productions requirements.
The stage is also flexible, so it can be raised or lowered, expanded or contracted, trap doors added, etc.
Back of house there are 19 new dressing rooms and the loading dock allows for as many as nine semis to be loaded and unloaded at once.
Free wi-fi in the Amphitheater will be provided by SilverIP. Access instructions will be at Summerfest.com and on display in the venue.
The project – announced in October 2018 – was designed by Milwaukee’s Eppstein Uhen Architects and built by Hunzinger Construction and was funded entirely with private money.
At $51.3 million, it is the largest project ever undertaken by Summerfest’s parent organization, Milwaukee World Festival.
It comprises nearly a third of the $160 million spent to improve the grounds over the past 16 years.
"It’s in a special class of venues," said Milwaukee World Festival CEO Don Smiley. "It is the only outdoor urban venue designed specifically for music.
“For more than three decades, this venue has hosted music’s biggest stars. Now that the renovation is complete, we are ready to host the next generation of music fans and bring a legendary lineup to a legendary venue.”
Here are some images of what you can expect to see when the new venue opens to the public next month...
New video screens
Expanded concourse spaces & skyline views
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.