The Who's Who in Building & Construction

Designing and Planning Are Underway for Milwaukee Bucks Development

Designing and Planning Are Underway for Milwaukee Bucks Development

The following content is featured in the Milwaukee & E. Wisconsin Spring 2016 edition of The Who’s Who in Building & Construction.

THE BUCK STARTS HERE: Designing and Planning are Underway for Milwaukee Bucks Development

All great teams need the right number of talented players. The NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks have assembled a dream team to lead the design and planning of its new arena and entertainment district as well as a parking structure and practice facility. This project—spanning 30 acres—is gaining momentum fast, and it has the potential to revitalize the downtown Milwaukee area, keep the Bucks in the city and change sports and more for locals.


The game surrounding this project began with a sale and some conditions. The Bucks currently play at BMO Harris Bradley Center, a 28-year-old facility that is one of the oldest used by the NBA. Team leaders and fans want this to change. Former Milwaukee Bucks Owner Herb Kohl sold the team to Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry in 2014 for $550 million, with a provision that allows the league to buy back the team for $575 million if new arena construction does not begin by November 2017. There also is a sales condition to keep the team in Milwaukee as long as there is a modern arena in place by that year. Moving the team wasn’t an option for the NBA; the team has played in Milwaukee since its inception in 1968.

Key project players include Populous (the lead architect), HNTB Corp. and Eppstein Uhen Architects. Populous, based in Kansas City, Mo., is a global company that has participated in more than 2,000 projects in 30 years. Populous has its hand in many markets in several countries, and it has designed some of the world’s most memorable sports, civic and entertainment buildings. There are 17 offices filled with Populous visionaries who want to take the built environment to the next level.

Of the recently released concepts for the new Milwaukee Bucks stadium, Brad Clark, Senior Designer with Populous, said: “These early conceptual renderings represent the owners’ vision to create a world-class facility and year-round destination that will revitalize downtown Milwaukee and spur growth and development throughout the region. We envision this dynamic entertainment experience as one that could seamlessly connect to the greater Milwaukee community. The goal is to design a lasting symbol for all of Wisconsin, pairing the crafted scale of Milwaukee’s architecture and innovative spirit with the natural beauty of the state.”

HNTB, located in Overland Park, Kan., is an employee-owned company with more than 100 years of service. Its website says it operates with the philosophy that employees have to take personal responsibility for making success happen while building relationships with clients, expecting more of themselves, discovering what is really important in any solution and collaborating for the benefit of everyone. HNTB also has completed several high-profile stadiums that are innovative, technologically advanced, modern facilities that exceed both teams’ and fans’ expectations.

Milwaukee Arena pedestrian linkage

Highland Avenue will provide pedestrian linkage from the west.

“The goal is to design a lasting symbol for all of Wisconsin, pairing the crafted scale of Milwaukee’s architecture and innovative spirit with the natural beauty of the state.” – Brad Clark, Senior Designer, Populous

Eppstein Uhen Architects, based in Milwaukee, was first introduced to the Bucks when it designed a new corporate office in a renovated space for the franchise in 2014. Founded in 1907, the firm has had a major impact on Milwaukee’s architecture and evolution as a city. Their website reports that the core focus is to meet clients’ expectations while elevating people’s potential. EUA knows that a design is not simply created but evolves over time with the help of design leaders. The group believes exchanging ideas in open collaboration is what brings a design solution to life.

ICON Venue Group is located in Greenwood Village, Colo., and serves as the owner’s representative. The group’s focus is to facilitate communication with all the parties from planning through completion. It does this by managing the architects, contractors, governing bodies and facility operators on a daily basis. This keeps all parties on track and informed.

The general contractor was named in late March, and Minneapolis-based Mortenson Construction Company (Mortenson) beat out some tough competition to get the contract. Mortenson has an office in Brookfield, Wis., and holds a noteworthy reputation in the sports facilities market. The family-owned firm has completed more than 160 U.S. sports and entertainment projects valued at over $7 million. Engineering News-Record (ENR) has ranked Mortenson as one of the nation’s top 25 largest builders—and one of the top three sports builders.

Milwakee Arena Glass reveals levels of arena

The arched long-span zinc roof seamlessly transitions into vertical walls. Glass reveals the many levels of activity in the arena.

“Mortenson and all our team members are excited to be selected by the Bucks organization as the builder for their new arena,” says Derek Cunz, Vice President and General Manager of Mortenson’s Sports Group. “It will be a privilege to build this landmark project, and we believe our expertise in building sports venues, engagement of the local community, and careful planning and execution of the work will contribute to its success. It will be a wonderful project and will help create lifelong memories for generations of fans.”

Wisconsin Milwaukee Arena lobby atrium

The lobby atrium is 100-feet high, connecting every arena level.

The practice facility and parking structure are treated as separate contracts and are being overseen by the construction manager, Milwaukee-based J.H. Findorff & Son Inc. GRAEF and American Design Inc., both of Milwaukee, will jointly design and develop these structures. JP Cullen & Sons, out of Janesville, Wis., will serve as general contractor on the practice facility.

The Live Block that surrounds the arena also is its own entity. In April, the Bucks announced that Gensler, headquartered in San Francisco, Calif., and Rinka Chung Architecture (Rinka Chung), of Milwaukee, will serve as design partners on this new entertainment district. The block will be a year-round hot spot destination for dining, entertainment and retail. Rinka Chung has the opportunity to put its mark on a city it has been a part of since the firm was founded 10 years ago. Steady growth and a solid reputation make this firm a hometown favorite.

“The Rinka Chung and Gensler team is proud to be selected for the Milwaukee Bucks Live Block project,” says Matt Rinka, Principal Architect for Rinka Chung. “Our partnership harnesses international expertise with a regionally rooted, award-winning design firm… we are well prepared to deliver an inspiring destination that our entire community can take pride in.”


The concept developed by the key players follows a current stadium trend—to create a multi-purpose space with an adjacent hospitality and entertainment area. The Milwaukee Bucks’ vision for its $524-million project is a venue and entertainment district for sports, recreation, and residential and office uses. The team and city selected a site that can be used year-round to draw crowds to established Milwaukee businesses and developments.

“We’re not just trying to build a new home for the Milwaukee Bucks, but also create a 365-day attraction for Wisconsin residents that will help revitalize downtown Milwaukee,” says Bucks President Peter Feigin. “We’re excited to share this glimpse of our vision for the future as we continue to work with our local and state partners to arrive at a viable plan. This collective effort will create a ripple effect of growth, development and transformation for the entire community and region.”

The game plan is for fans and concertgoers to be welcomed on the east side by a grand entry in a spacious atrium surrounded by glass. This entry and its paths—via escalators, stairs or a balcony at every level—visually connect the area. The fan-going experience is expected to be heightened with intimate seating that places the majority of fans in a lower seating tier. The arena boasts of open concourses, signature towers, and a one-of-a-kind fan club box perched above the seating. It is slated to be a 690,000-square-foot, six-story arena.

Wisconsin, the dairy state, may be known for its cheese, but it also has a reputation for its industry, wilderness and prairies, and water views. The structure’s materials, layout and color palette are designed to express the lakes, rivers and forests that populate the region.

The Live Block, a year-round plaza created to be the arena forecourt and community living room, will surround all this. The plaza is poised to be an attractive gathering area and entertainment block that could increase Milwaukee’s tourism game while getting new fans interested in the NBA. The hope is this venue and entertainment district will drive more tourists to the area, increasing revenue for businesses and bringing in new developments.

Milwaukee Arena Seating Arrangement

The seating arrangement is intimate for all events to help fans or concert goers feel more connected to the experience.


There is still much to nail down about the arena and surrounding area. A development agreement was signed by the city in December 2015. Milwaukee’s City Plan Commission recommended the proposed public plaza space, but questions remain about the exact size of the site and street closures. The team, however, has signed a 30-year land lease for the arena.

The team released the design plans by the March 1 deadline. They have to begin construction on a parking structure by June 1; construction on the arena by June 8; and the Live Block construction is to be started by April 2017. Completion of the stadium complex is expected in time for the 2018-19 NBA season. Phase 2 will demolish the Bradley Center and prepare the site for other development, and phase 3— which will not be strategized until 2023 at the earliest—will bring mixed-use plans to the site.

During the next few months, designs undoubtedly will be tweaked and more construction players will be brought into the game. The first quarter of this project, however, has assembled a powerful team to lead the Bucks and Milwaukee to a victorious outcome.

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