By Jimmy Carlton Sportswriter Published Oct 07, 2016 at 12:46 PM Photography: Bobby Tanzilo

Milwaukee’s oldest still-operating sports venue has received more than $6 million in improvements over the past few months and, this "Rocktober Weekend," will be shaking and showing off its new look to the public for the first time.

The UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, at 400 W. Kilbourn Ave., is holding two unique events Oct. 7-8 that’ll allow people to see the progress made since extensive renovations began in late June. The home of the Milwaukee Panthers men’s basketball team, Wave indoor soccer and Brewcity Bruisers roller derby – and, this season, for the first time since 1988, Admirals hockey – will host Mama Tried’s Flat Out Friday motorcycle race tonight and a Megadeth-headlined heavy metal concert on Saturday evening.

"It is exciting to walk through the UWM Panther Arena and see that changes that were once part of a wish list have become a reality for all our customers in the community," said Russell Staerkel, the Wisconsin Center District CEO. "We are proud to provide those who have grown up with, and those who are new to, this 66-year tradition of events at the Arena with a fresh, exciting experience."

The $6.3 million upgrade to the Arena, jointly financed by the WCD and the Admirals, was one of the largest investments in the building since it opened in 1950 as the Milwaukee Arena (and later the MECCA, Wisconsin Center Arena and U.S. Cellular Arena). The Admirals, who called it home from 1977-1988, skated at the BMO Harris Bradley Center the past 27 seasons before signing a 10-year lease (with a five-year mutual extension) to return to the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.

Final renovation projects, including locker rooms for all of the tenant teams, are expected to be completed in advance of the Admirals’ and Panthers’ home openers, on Oct. 29 and Nov. 11, respectively. On Oct. 19, the Admirals are hosting a free open skate for the public.

Reflecting the versatile Arena’s functionality as a site for sports, entertainment and convention events, the inaugural "Rocktober Weekend" features a couple of exciting and distinctly alternative affairs. Mama Tried’s Flat Out Friday is an indoor flat-track motorcycle race on dried Dr. Pepper syrup, a surface that allow the bikes to stick to the floor and reach maximum speed. The race starts at 7 p.m. and there will be motorcycle parking in front of the Arena on W. Kilbourn Ave.

The Arena will keep rocking on Saturday night, when Megadeth headlines a concert, beginning at 6 p.m., with Amon Amarth, Suicidal Tendencies, Metal Church and Butcher Babies.

So, that’s what is going on this weekend, but what’s new at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena? Here’s a by-the-numbers breakdown of what more than $6 million in Arena improvements has bought, according to the Wisconsin Center District.


  • New Daktronics LED digital signs, which provide brighter, more colorful, more efficient and longer life
  • 52-inch 1080p HDTV video monitors that flank the Kilbourn Avenue entrances

Interior – front of house

LED lighting in Arena bowl that provides brighter, more efficient, longer lamp life

  • Sports lighting (120 instruments)
  • Seat lighting (20 instruments)
  • Programmable color lighting and effects for enhanced fan experience
  • About $70,000 in projected annual energy savings
  • Almost 50 percent weight reduction for lighting, resulting in increased rigging capacity


  • WiFi service available throughout the building, including seating bowl, concourses and back of house
  • New and upgraded fiber optic cabling and connections for satellite uplinks/downlinks

Scoreboard (installed in 2014)

  • Flexible scoring
  • Seamless wrap-around video
  • HDTV

Ice-making improvements

  • Reverse-osmosis water purifier (from the Bradley Center) that improves ice consistency
  • New compressor and components added for backup ice-making

New seating

  • All 8,910 permanent seats replaced, completed in three phases over three years (2014-2016)
  • New retractable seating risers at north end
  • New rink-side risers

Restroom improvements

  • Automatic flush, which conserves water and reduces expenses
  • New plumbing fixtures, LED lighting, stall doors and mirrors
  • New paint and finishes

Upgraded concession stands and operations

  • New counters, signage, menus and stainless-steel work counters
  • "Deli-style" look to some stands
  • New specialty stands: "The Coop" in the west (red) concourse, equipped with fryers for chicken and other fried foods; Southwestern Grille, Loaded Dogs, Milwaukee Sausage Co., Victory Grill, Palermo’s Pizza and Cedar Crest Ice Cream
  • New kitchen and upgraded food service commissary, equipped with ranges, ovens, dishwashers and ventless range hoods
  • New beer coolers and beer lines

Expanded fan store

Hockey rink

  • All new dasherboard system
  • Arena Deck ice covering to easily allow for other events

Box office

  • Original box office lobby terrazzo floor restored and unveiled
  • Upper box office refurbished, with new finishes, LED lighting and terrazzo floor unveiled
  • State Street (north) box office reopened for Admirals games and UW-Milwaukee student admissions

Interior – back of house

New Admirals locker rooms, training rooms and coaches’ offices

  • LED lighting installed throughout
  • Separate dehumidifiers and ventilation to control odors

Refurbished/improved team locker rooms for Panthers and Wave

Refurbished/improved media room

  • New LED lighting
  • New flooring and finishes
  • New counters

Upgraded video production facilities

Tickets and additional information on "Rocktober Weekend" and other events are available at

Born in Milwaukee but a product of Shorewood High School (go ‘Hounds!) and Northwestern University (go ‘Cats!), Jimmy never knew the schoolboy bliss of cheering for a winning football, basketball or baseball team. So he ditched being a fan in order to cover sports professionally - occasionally objectively, always passionately. He's lived in Chicago, New York and Dallas, but now resides again in his beloved Brew City and is an ardent attacker of the notorious Milwaukee Inferiority Complex.

After interning at print publications like Birds and Blooms (official motto: "America's #1 backyard birding and gardening magazine!"), Sports Illustrated (unofficial motto: "Subscribe and save up to 90% off the cover price!") and The Dallas Morning News (a newspaper!), Jimmy worked for web outlets like, where he was a Packers beat reporter, and FOX Sports Wisconsin, where he managed digital content. He's a proponent and frequent user of em dashes, parenthetical asides, descriptive appositives and, really, anything that makes his sentences longer and more needlessly complex.

Jimmy appreciates references to late '90s Brewers and Bucks players and is the curator of the unofficial John Jaha Hall of Fame. He also enjoys running, biking and soccer, but isn't too annoying about them. He writes about sports - both mainstream and unconventional - and non-sports, including history, music, food, art and even golf (just kidding!), and welcomes reader suggestions for off-the-beaten-path story ideas.