By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Sep 13, 2021 at 2:02 PM

Although there was an event on Sunday, Near West Side Partners launched its first Near West Side Week with a mural unveiling and park groundbreaking event Monday at the State Theater, 2612-16 W. State St.

Monday's Music Park groundbreaking.

Around noon a group of dignitaries – including Alds. Robert Bauman and Michael Murphy, and Near West Side Partners Executive Director Keith Stanley – grabbed golden shovels and broke ground on Music Park, the first phase of a plan to bring life back to the old State Theater.

The park will include a stage for live music, planters and outdoor seating for a cafe planned for the small building situated between the park and the theater.

An overhead door will be added to the cafe building to connect it to the park.

A rendering of the park.

"It will start to be built this year, through the winter," says Dmitri Pochtarev, aka Dima, a volunteer who is currently serving as executive director on the project. "If they don't finish the concrete work in the winter before the snow hits, then they'll finish it early spring."

A new music-themed mural – by Milwaukee artist Brad Bernard – attached to the exterior wall of the planned cafe was also unveiled on Monday.

The new mural.

Quorum Architects designed the park, which will be built by Selzer-Ornst Construction.

"We want to start activating this area right away next year," says Dima, who adds that fundraising is underway to white box the cafe building until construction on that phase can begin.

Getting the cafe ready for a tenant is a key step in the plan.

"We have somebody interested, so we're pushing to get this done because once they can get in, there's some leaseable cashflow that makes it more viable," says Dima.

"Our biggest raise right now is $120,000 to get the State Theater onto the (National Register of Historic Places), because once that happens, a corporation can buy the tax credits. There's a lot of engineering and (other work) that goes into that."

Pochtarev estimates those credits are worth in the area of $1.3 million.

A rendering of the theater, cafe and park plan.

"Once we can raise the $120,000 to designate this as historic, a corporation partners with us and that's really the big jump to move on to the theater."

Because these steps still need to be taken there is currently no solid timeline on beginning renovation of the long-vacant theater, which suffered a fire in March 2017.

In November 2018, a group of entities lent support to a plan of convert the old theater into a new venue called The New State that would have performance space, recording studios and other facilities.

They asked the city to delay a planned razing of the structure. Later, the city approved the transfer of the long-vacant building, giving the theater to the organizers, along with the roughly $32,000 it would have spent on demolition.

The money was used for asbestos remediation and other work.

Dima says the roof has been patched to prevent water infiltation.

You can read more about the plan, with photos taken inside, here.

You can read about the long history of the State Theater, which was also known as The Palms, the Electric Ballroom and Hoops, in this Urban Spelunking story.

Near West Side Week runs through Saturday, Sept. 18 and includes a variety of events that showcase the neighborhood as a great place to live, work and play.

Here’s the Near West Side Week schedule, with details provided by Near West Side Partners:

Taste of the Near West Side, Tuesday, Sept. 14, all day
At participating Near West Side restaurants

Enjoy specials and discounts from Near West Side restaurants, including past winners of Rev-Up MKE.

Appreciative Inquiry Summit Webinar, Wednesday, Sept.15, noon-1 p.m.
Tune in via Near West Side Partners Facebook Live

This special installation of the Near West Side Partners’ Wednesday Webinar Series will provide updates from July Appreciative Inquiry Summit.

Historic Avenues West Walking Tour, Wednesday, Sept.15, 5-6:30 p.m.
Ambassador Hotel, 2308 W. Wisconsin Ave.

Join Keith Stanley for a guided tour of the historic Avenues West neighborhood, utilizing a new app developed by Historic Milwaukee, and enjoy an expertly crafted cocktail from Gin Rickey before or after the tour.

Near West Side to Hank Aaron Trail Walk & Ride, Thursday, Sept.16, 4:30-7 p.m.
Merrill Park, 435 N. 35th St.

Bike or walk to the Hank Aaron Trail with Near West Side Partners and enjoy brats and refreshments at the finish! All attendees will receive a free NWS Week T-shirt.

Near West Side Scavenger Hunt, Friday, Sept. 17, game opens at noon
Get a group together, compete for prizes and experience Near West Side landmarks, historic sites, and hidden gems. The game will open via the GooseChase app at noon at Friday, September 17, and will close at 6 p.m. on Saturday, September 18. A team can begin game play at any time during this period and can complete missions at its own pace. Final game standings will be determined and announced on Monday, September 20.

Near West Side Movie Night, Friday, Sept. 17, 5-9 p.m.
Merrill Park, 435 N. 35th St.

Join the Near West Side neighborhood for a family friendly evening screening of Tom & Jerry (2021) in Merrill Park.

Near West Side Scavenger Hunt, Saturday, Sept.18, game closes at 6 p.m.
Get a group together, compete for prizes and experience Near West Side landmarks, historic sites, and hidden gems. The game will open via the GooseChase app at noon on Friday, Sept. 17, and will close at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 18. A team can begin game play at any time during this period and can complete missions at its own pace. Final game standings will be determined and announced on Monday, Sept. 20.

Virtual Near West Side Housing Resource Fair, Saturday, Sept.18, 9:30-11 a.m.
Via Zoom

Take a virtual tour and learn everything you need to know about purchasing a home and the resources available in the Near West Side.

Westview Mural Tour Unveiling on Vliet Street, Saturday, Sept.18, 3-5 p.m.
Vliet Street Oasis Market, 3743 W. Vliet St.

Learn about the history and culture of the Near West Side at the unveiling of the first of a series of murals painted and curated by Brad Bernard as part of the Westview Mural Tour. Meet at the Vliet Street Oasis and walk to the unveiling at the Wisconsin African American Women's Center (3020 W. Vliet Street). Along the way, you will hear about future murals by artists Reynaldo Hernandez, Rozalia hernandez-Singh, Ruthie Joy, Jay Sterling, and Brandon Minga and see existing works along the corridor.

For more information, visit

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.