The Milwaukee Admirals will be officially moving to the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena for the start of the 2016-17 season after being approved by the Wisconsin Center District for a 10-year lease. The lease also includes a mutual option for a further 5-years.
The Milwaukee Admirals will contribute $2 million and the Wisconsin Center District $4.3 million to upgrade the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, which will add the hockey team as a tenant starting with the 2016-2017 season.
The capital projects will be completed over the next two to three years and include a new kitchen, a new Admirals locker room and general updates to the 66-year-old arena.
“The arena needs to be brought back to a level that we know it’s capable of being,” Admirals owner Harris Turer said in an interview with the Milwaukee Business Journal. “It’s just gotten a little old and tired. We really want our fans to be able to come to games and just see a really beautiful place.”
The 10-year lease with a five-year mutual option extension was approved Wednesday morning by the Wisconsin Center District board. The public Wisconsin Center District owns the arena at 400 W. Kilbourn Ave. in downtown Milwaukee.
The lease will produce a positive financial result for the Wisconsin Center District and taxpayers, said board chairman Scott Neitzel. Adding 38 Admirals home games per year greatly increases the viability of the Panther Arena.
“From the community standpoint, I think it’s wonderful,” Neitzel said in an interview. “It keeps the Admirals downtown in Milwaukee and therefore it meets what I think is the mission of the Wisconsin Center District — to continue to bring as many people to downtown Milwaukee as possible.”
The Wisconsin Center District also owns the Milwaukee Theatre and the Wisconsin Center convention hall.
The Admirals, who play in the American Hockey League, had no other viable options for a home rink after the BMO Harris Bradley Center closes in 2018. The Admirals need a new home rink because they were not in the plans for the new Milwaukee Bucks arena that will replace the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Turer said he is excited about the new home rink and what he considers successful negotiations with the Wisconsin Center District leadership. The Admirals have played at the Bradley Center, which was a gift to the community from former owners Jane Bradley Pettit and Lloyd Pettit, since the venue opened in 1988.
“I had no desire to sell the team and that would have been a terrible thing for our community,” Turer said. “I’m just grateful that we have a home.”
Turer said he is not sure yet what he will spend the $2 million on other than a general facelift and modernizing of the Panther Arena. He would like to improve the concourse areas, main lobby and concession stands.
Turer, who bought the Admirals 11 years ago, said the team has been losing money at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. He said the Wisconsin Center District lease will result in profits because the team for the first time will receive a split share of merchandise revenue and a share of concessions revenue.
“This allows the Admirals to be a financially viable entity and that means a lot to me,” said Turer, who is the grandson of Master Lock founder Harry Soref.
The Wisconsin Center District will fund its portion of the arena improvements with part of a $5.25 million bond issue the board also approved Wednesday.
The district did make a couple of significant improvements after UWM agreed to a 10-year naming rights deal in June 2014. The district spent $1.1 million on a new scoreboard and video board at the Panther Arena and is replacing all the permanent seats in UWM black and gold colors over a three-year period.
UWM has 10-year naming rights agreement for the arena. The Admirals would like to add some signage at the arena but need to negotiate that with UWM officials, Neitzel and Turer said.
UWM and the Milwaukee Wave indoor soccer team also agreed to some flexibility in scheduling games to accommodate the Admirals, Neitzel said.
The Admirals lease at the BMO Harris Bradley Center runs through 2016-2017 but the team and Bradley Center officials have discussed an early exit from that agreement.
The ol’ MECCA will be seeing plenty of upgrades because of this move by the Admirals. A new locker room will be needed to match that of what the team has at the BMO Harris Bradley Center and the upgrades won’t be performed purely from a player experience, either. The fan experience is going to a focus as well. Upgrades to the concourse, lobbies and concession stands will be a point of focus during the course of this lease. As reported by Kirchen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel there are $6.3 million in upgrades in works with the Admirals set to contribute $2 million and the Wisconsin Center District set to contribute $4.3 million.
There will be a press conference this afternoon at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. I will be on-hand to take that all in and, hopefully, provide a Chatterbox later this afternoon with different parties associated with this move being able to shed some insight on this huge news for the Admirals.
Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.