By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Feb 08, 2022 at 10:02 AM

A $3.5 million grant from the State of Wisconsin is helping kickstart upgrades at Port Milwaukee that aims to boost and accommodate cruise ship visits to Milwaukee.

The grant, awarded by Gov. Tony Evers last week along with other grants, comes from the Tourism Capital Investment Grant Program, funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The money is tabbed for travel-related infrastructure.

The site of the new dock. (PHOTOS: Collins Engineering)

The Port Milwaukee grant was among the largest given. The Milwaukee County Zoo is also receiving $3.5 million to upgrade the entrance and the penguin exhibit. Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau received the same amount, and Dane County’s The Alliant Energy Center got $3.2 million for upgrades.

The money will be used to construct new Seawaymax infrastructure at the South Shore Cruise Dock. This project was launched in the wake of Viking Cruises’ 2020 announcement that it would utilize Milwaukee for its turnaround service for large international cruise vessels.

According to the announcement release, the Port does not currently have the necessary facilities to handle those big boats.

Port officials estimate that the city will welcome 27 cruise ships with more than 11,400 passengers this year.

There will be at least two vessels on the Great Lakes this year, including Viking Cruises' Octantis and Pearl Sea Cruises' Pearl Mist.

Viking plans to add a second ship – a sister ship to Octantis called Polaris – in the summer of 2023.

Viking's Octantis. (PHOTO: Viking Cruises)

According to Port Milwaukee officials, the design work is complete and construction on the $6.4 million project will begin as soon as the necessary funding is available. The remainder will come from $500,000 in WisDOT grant funding, Port Milwaukee matching funds and money from the City of Milwaukee’s sale of property in the Harbor District for the Komatsu Mining development.

An additional $1.6 million needs to be raised and officials say they're working on identifying sources for that funding.

The goal is to break ground this year with a projected 2023 completion.

The location of the new dock facilities is an undeveloped parcel of land east of the Lake Express ferry terminal.

The southern dock has been used in the past for cruise ships like Le Champlain and Hamburg. The eastern dock at South Shore will be developed especially for Seawaymax vessels.

passengers view
The view the ships will see when docking. (PHOTO: Port Milwaukee)

“We've prioritized major investments in Wisconsin's tourism industry, because it's at the core of our local economies, helping to promote local festivals and events, support small businesses, restaurants, and hotels, showcase our outdoor recreation opportunities, and so much more,” said Evers in announcing the grants at an event that also included Rep. Gwen Moore and Acting Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson.

“From Green Bay to Hayward to Wisconsin Dells, these capital infrastructure projects will help ensure Wisconsin's tourism industry—and all the industries that depend on it—continue to be a strong part of our economy.”

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.