By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Dec 07, 2018 at 9:35 AM

If you thought the departure of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in 2020 was going to strike a deadly blow to the Marcus Center, it looks like you’d better think again.

This morning, the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, 929 N. Water St., announced a sweeping new master plan for its facility, which was built along the river in 1969. The plan includes broad changes to the exterior campus as well as inside the building.

The Marcus Center worked with HGA architects, CG Schmidt Inc. general contractors and Schuler Shook Theater Consultants to devise the plan, which drew on input gathered from patrons, vendors, resident performing arts groups and members of the broader community.

The goal, is, to "secure (the center’s) vitality for the next 50 years," according to a statement issued Friday.

The list of initiatives that are part of the project, which is slated to begin spring and be ready in time for the autumn launch of the venue’s 50th anniversary season is ambitious:

In the words of the center’s press release, the initial priorities are:

  • Community Grounds: The Community Grounds will be completely re-envisioned to ensure the campus provides an open and inviting park-like setting for the community. The changes include expanding the plaza, installing new water fountains, creating new green areas and establishing a flexible "Great Lawn" to provide opportunities for more community-based events. The entire grounds will be ADA accessible.
  • Interior / Exterior Connections: The design creates greater visual connections between the interior and exterior of the campus by installing new clear glass on the Water Street exterior entrance and replacing all exterior hardscape surfaces. The grounds will include new street-level campus lighting as well as upgraded technology throughout the exterior grounds including digital/video screens to activate the space.
  • War Memorial: The War Memorial dedication will be relocated to a more prominent site on the campus to better honor those who bravely served, and more effectively recognize the Center’s history as a War Memorial building.
  • Donor Lounge: A new donor lounge will overlook the re-envisioned Community Grounds and city skyline, creating new opportunities to serve Marcus Center members and enhance financial support for the Center.

Additional initiatives, to be implemented in phases across the next three to five years, include:

  • Outdoor Café: Build a new fully equipped permanent outdoor café on the RiverWalk to serve as a gathering place for the community and a new amenity along the river.
  • Bradley Pavilion: Renovate Bradley Pavilion and create a new exterior terrace.
  • Todd Wehr Theater: Completely renovate Todd Wehr Theater, including lobbies, restrooms, artist dressing rooms, back of house support areas, technology and stage enhancements, as well as add a new west RiverWalk entrance to improve the function and experience of patrons at the Todd Wehr Theater,
  • Outdoor Gardens: Enclose the third-floor outdoor garden area to provide additional year-round donor, subscriber and rental space.
  • Uihlein Hall: Complete renovation of Uihlein Hall, including:
  1. Performance hall improvements, including new aisles and seats, increased ADA seating areas, enhanced acoustics and upgraded technologies for sound, lighting and stage enhancements;
  2. Renovation and improvements to all public spaces, including main lobby, ticket office and restrooms;
  3. Enhancements to all patron amenities, including concession areas, elevators, digital signage and technology;
  4. Renovation and improvements to all back-of-house spaces, including artist dressing rooms and support areas for all theaters as well as a refresh of all interior spaces – installing new lighting, carpeting and repainting.

"Over the last 18 months, the Marcus Center has engaged in a strategic planning process with a broad cross-section of the community to develop a vision for the campus that will lead the Center to another 50 years of success," said Paul Mathews, president and CEO of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, in the release.

Note the "Hamilton" sign. #justsayin

"We’re proud to reveal that new vision, which will create an even more open and accessible gathering place for the entire community, while establishing a solid financial foundation for the Center’s future."

The plan was created in collaboration with Marcus Hotels & Resorts, which recently announced changes, including a rebranding, to the former InterContinental Hotel across the street, now called the St. Kate.

"The Center is excited to work collaboratively with the Marcus Corporation in the creation of a multi-block area and programming strategies that will serve as a true destination for Milwaukee," said Marcus Hotels’ David Marcus, who is also a member of the board of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.

"The Marcus Center has demonstrated a deep commitment to supporting diverse programming that speaks to our entire community," said Barbara Wanzo, executive director of Black Arts MKE. "They have shown that same commitment as they developed a bold, new vision for the campus that will create a welcoming environment where the entire Milwaukee community can gather together."

"We are thrilled by the new vision for the Marcus Center, which will create significant new opportunities for First Stage as well as each of the other resident organizations," added Betsy Corry, managing director of First Stage. "It builds on the best of the last 50 years, while ensuring a bright future as the region’s world-class gathering place for all."

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

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 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.