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Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Seeks to Buy, Renovate Former Warner Grand Theatre for $80M

The renovation would include bathroom modernizations and updated seating to fit a capacity of 1,750. The theater’s acquisition and renovations are expected to cost between $70 million and $80 million. Photo courtesy of the Warner Grand Theatre's Facebook page.

MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra (MSO) is hoping to purchase and restore the former Warner Grand Theatre in downtown Milwaukee in time for its fall 2019 season. An anonymous donor is leading the initiative to purchase the vacant theater, which would be converted into a concert hall.

The renovation would include bathroom modernizations and updated seating to fit a capacity of 1,750. The theater’s acquisition and renovations are expected to cost between $70 million and $80 million. The MSO is hoping to acquire the site in fall 2017.

The project is part of a $120 million MSO fundraising campaign that would also raise bridge financing and increase the organization’s general endowment.
The MSO brought in $17 million in revenue during its 2015-2016 season. The symphony’s 80 full-time musicians perform more than 135 concerts each season.

The orchestra currently performs at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts on North Water Street. The 12-story Warner Grand Theatre is situated on West Wisconsin Avenue. The MSO is the only major orchestra in the nation without control over its own performance venue, according to the MSO’s president and executive director.

The Art Deco-style theater was built in 1931 and was last occupied in 1995. It sits across from the Shops of Grand Avenue, which may soon undergo a renovation of its own that will bring office space and a grocery store to the shopping center. Marcus Corp. owns the theater’s ground lease.

— Nellie Day

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