• Summerfest reveals new U.S. Cellular stage for 2018

    December 9, 2016 Leave a Comment

    Summerfest’s U.S. Cellular Connection Stage is getting a built-from-scratch upgrade for 2018, fest officials announced Thursday.

    Constructed as part of a 10-year sponsorship renewal deal with U.S. Cellular, the stage will have its back to Lake Michigan, with clearer lakefront and skyline views and an increased capacity of 9,000, said Don Smiley, president and CEO of Summerfest’s parent company, Milwaukee World Festival Inc. Festival officials did not give an exact price for the project, but described it as a multimillion-dollar undertaking.

    Smiley expects the stage will host bigger names in a variety of genres, although with WMIL-FM (106.1) continuing its stage sponsorship, the roster is slated to skew country.

    “It’s our job as stewards of this property to do the best we can for the infrastructure for this property,” Smiley said. “The competition is really global in nature for these bands, whether they’re on the ground or whether they’re in the amphitheater. … If you’re not going forward, you are absolutely going backward.”

    The current Connection stage, last upgraded in 1996, will be demolished immediately following the 50th Summerfest run this July, Smiley said. U.S. Cellular is taking the lion’s share of the expense, with Eppstein Uhen Architects behind the design.

    The new stage will host a 25-foot LED video screen — the largest on the grounds — and an open-air backstage area for artist meet-and-greets, as well as up close views of the stage for contest winners and guests. Phone chargers will be located around the stage area and the bar will be redesigned.

     

    This video rendering depicts Summerfest’s new U.S. Cellular Connection Stage, slated to open in 2018.

    The project is still subject to review and approval by the Board of Harbor Commissioners, which has a leasing agreement to the site with Milwaukee World Festival through 2030.

    At a board of directors meeting Thursday, MWF announced plans to spend $59.1 million on capital expenses from 2017 through 2020. Expenditures include rebuilding the 23,000-capacity Marcus Amphitheater, Summerfest’s home for its most famous headliners. The project is still in the early stages, but Smiley told the Journal Sentinel Thursday he hopes the new amphitheater would open by 2020.

    Much of the necessary $59.1 million will be funded through sponsorships, but MWF will need to generate $31.8 million to meet demand for cash through that time frame. The board did not discuss potential sources for this revenue.

    In September, Summerfest announced its Miller Lite Oasis stage would be renovatedfor the 2017 season. It will include a redesigned stage, new side stage bar area, video screen improvements and a new elevated viewing deck. Fest officials also announced in September construction of a new, air-conditioned Summerfest store and plans to reconfigure its marketplace for 2017.

    The board of directors also approved the 2017 budget at Thursday’s meeting. Milwaukee World Festival is budgeting for a $525,000 profit next year, and projecting a $14.6 million net budget operating income for Summerfest. That’s a $163,700 decrease from the year prior, but MWF is planning to spend nearly $600,000 in marketing for Summerfest’s 50th, largely offset by sponsorship revenue.

    With July 3, a traditionally busy Summerfest date, landing on Summerfest’s customary Monday break, attendance projections are flat for next year. Summerfest drew 804,116 people in 2016, a 4.1% increase from the year prior.

    Summerfest 2017 will run from June 28 to July 2 and July 4 to 9. Two Marcus Amphitheater headliners — Red Hot Chili Peppers on opening night, and P!nk on July 2 — were announced last month. The vast majority of tickets have been purchased for both shows, Summerfest’s Vice President of Entertainment Bob Babisch said at Thursday’s board meeting. A third Marcus headliner will be announced Friday.

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