By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Nov 30, 2022 at 3:00 PM

A consortium of Milwaukee performing arts and live entertainment organizations and venues announced Wednesday that they have launched Milwaukee Theater District in an effort to bolster Downtown's live entertainment scene.

The announcement was made at the Riverside Theater, 116 W. Wisconsin Ave., Wednesday afternoon by Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson and VISIT Milwaukee President & CEO Peggy Williams-Smith, along with representatives of the groups.

Participants include the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra's Bradley Symphony Center, Marcus Performing Arts Center, Wisconsin Center District and Miller High Life Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theater, Pabst Theater Group's Pabst and Riverside Theaters and Turner Hall, Riverside Theater, Sunstone Theater and The ARC Theatre at Saint Kate – The Arts Hotel.

Other performing groups involved are Black Arts MKE, First Stage, Florentine Opera and Milwaukee Ballet.


Milwaukee Downtown BID21, United Performing Arts Fund and VISIT Milwaukee are also supporting the project.

The announcement comes the day after one of the groups, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, released renderings of its new $75 million theater project.

The district is more mental than physical, with no borders, though the participating groups and venues are all located within walking distance of one another Downtown.

A website went live on Wednesday morning and a marketing campaign launched Tuesday.

According to a press release issued in advance of the press conference, "Goals of the Milwaukee Theater District include growing attendance at participating venues; raising awareness of Milwaukee’s performing arts and live entertainment scene; increasing community engagement through events promoting the district and participating groups; and increasing the vibrancy of the district with cohesive branding and collaborative activations."

A Milwaukee Theater District Pass offers deals at venues and with partners like Bublr Bikes, the Admirals, Usinger's and a variety of local restaurats, as well as the opportunity to check in at participating venues. Check-ins and deal redemptions will enter pass holders into a drawing.

Signing up at the website for the district's newsletter by Dec. 9 will include entry into a drawing for prizes like tickets to Death Cab for Cutie, Ani DiFranco, Impractical Jokers, Yo La Tengo, David Spade, The Rep's "A Christmas Carol" and other events.

According to organizers, with 15,000 seats, the new Milwaukee Theater District has the most theater seats per capita of any U.S. city.

Those seats accommodate 2 million attendees at a combined 2,100 events each year, generating an estimated $400 million in visitor spending annually, according to Tourism Economics.

The Theater District groups employ more than 1,000 people.

If the name “Milwaukee Theater District” sounds familiar, it should.

When the Milwaukee Rep first broached the idea of converting the old Oneida Street Power Station into its new Powerhouse Theater in 1983, it called the plan the Milwaukee Theater District Project.

And that plan also called for the redevelopment of nearly the entire square block between the Milwaukee River, Kilbourn Avenue and Water and Wells Streets.

That plan – described in 1986 as a $100 million project – led to the construction of the Milwaukee Center, with its office tower, hotel (now St. Kate) and atrium. In addition to the Rep’s three new theaters in the complex, the district was to include what is now the Marcus Performing Arts Center and The Pabst Theater.

In a 1984 op-ed published in the Journal, J. Harlan Park boasted, much as organizers did on Wednesday, that, “outside Times Square, there probably is not another comparable group in the country.”

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 has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.