New look for Summerfest's south end almost complete
Roughly three weeks away from the start of Summerfest 2011, work continues on the Maier Festival Park's south end, which will have a completely different look when the gates open June 29.
When Phase I is completed, visitors will find a completely redesigned south gate, which extends west past the Hoan Bridge towards Polk Street. The new gate will include expanded box office facilities for both festival tickets and Marcus Amphitheater events.
The large instruments which used to stand outside the Amphitheater will be relocated to just inside the gate, providing a photo opportunity for patrons and a memorable first impression for those walking up to the gate.
Once inside, the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard will have a new look, complete with a new stage and locations for food and beverage vendors.
The renovations follow similar upgrades to the Miller Oasis area, which was rebuilt in 2006, and the Harley-Davidson Roadhouse area, which underwent extensive renovation in 2008. The south end was in dire need of improvement. Many of the buildings were among the oldest on the grounds.
"They needed help in a big way," says Summerfest Vice President of Sales and Marketing John Boler. "They served their purpose but it was time to start fresh and get this place, this area of the grounds, set for another 20-25 years. We're making the investment now. We're reinvesting in the future of Summerfest."
The reinvestment was made possible by several factors, notably a 10-year sponsorship extension between Summerfest and Briggs & Stratton, which has held naming rights to the stage since 1997. Second, Summerfest reached an agreement with the City of Milwaukee to extend its lease on the grounds another 10 years, through 2030.
With the two extensions secured, Summerfest was able to secure $25 million in bonds, part of which was used to retire old debts. The remainder of the project was funded by dipping into Summerfest's capital reserve fund, which Boler says has been built up over the years specifically for projects like this.
"When you look at Milwaukee World Festival, Inc., it's a non-profit organization striving to be profitable because when we do make a profit, we're able to reinvest right back into the setting, into the property, into the quality of the facility," Boler says. "The combination of an extended lease out to 2030, in tandem with a great 10-year sponsorship extension with Briggs & Stratton, gives us some assurances that, if we put this money in, there's enough longevity and time for a return on the investment to happen."
Aside from programming and aesthetics, the new south end will also be a little easier to navigate. The Big Backyard stage, itself, has been relocated about 100 yards from its former location directly underneath the Hoan Bridge. The new stage will be located slightly to the north and east.
The stage will include state-of-the-art video capabilities while the Big Backyard area will be able to accommodate between 6-8,000 people in a more intimate setting complete with landscaping, trellising and other touches to give it more of a backyard feel.
"There's going to be a really cool vibe to it," Boler says.
The new food and beverage building will be home to Summerfest veterans Major Goolsby's and Greek Village and newcomer, Trinity. Above those stands will be a viewing deck used primarily for sponsor events but will also be opened to the public at times during the festival.
Several older food and beverage buildings and restroom facilities have been demolished, relocated and rebuilt, also, in an effort to improve traffic flow. The main corridor of the park, which branched out somewhat south of the Harley-Davidson area, will be better defined in the south end allowing pedestrian traffic to keep flowing and more space for those wishing to attend a show.
"We're brining the main traffic flow into the main corridor similar to the way the Harley-Davison Roadhouse is handled and the Miller Lite Oasis," Boler says. "You'll have your main thoroughfare with small activities going off to the side and then your main anchor venues.
"We've strengthen the spine, the main walkway and we think that's going to work out real well."
Other smaller changes include a new outdoor seating area at Jo-Jo's Martini Lounge, complete with additional service bars and a new, landscaped queue area outside of the Marcus Amphitheater.
Summerfest consulted with Eppstein Uhen on the design and Milwaukee-based Hunzinger is performing the work, which began last October, at the close of the 2010 festival season.
Later this year, work on Phase II of the project, which will focus on the area currently used for the M&I Bank Classic Rock stage and portions of the Lakefront, itself. Plans for that project have yet to be finalized.
"Right now it's all open in our planning and ideation phase as to what it could be," Boler says. "Concepts and designs are still in play, but whatever we do is going to be world class.
If I've got to sit there for five hours to claim a decent seat for a concert, it would be helpful to know what KIND of seating is available for 6000 to 8000 people. Bleachers? Stadium seats? Bleachers with backs (like Miller Park)? This glorified press release mentions the landscape and trestling, but not about the ACTUAL functional amenities.
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