News and Updates

April 25, 2024 News

Milwaukee-area events spur increased tourism, economic impact

Milwaukee is preparing for a major boost in tourism and economic impact as multiple events and happenings are converging this spring and summer.

From unique opportunities such as the upcoming Republican National Convention and the recent filming of "Top Chef," to annual traditions including Summerfest and the Wisconsin State Fair, to the opening of the expanded downtown convention center, the city is poised to see hundreds of millions of dollars in economic impact this year.

At a Milwaukee Business Journal event held April 16, leaders involved with those events and venues shared updates about the economic impact they're expecting.

Baird Center

Ahead of its May grand opening following a $456 million expansion project that doubled its size, downtown Milwaukee's convention center has already booked around 50 events that wouldn't have been possible without the expansion, said Wisconsin Center District president and CEO Marty Brooks.

The convention space, now known as the Baird Center, has 108 confirmed events in the center's north building through 2030 and 212 events holding dates for bookings in the north building through 2032, Brooks said.

"It's not just today, it's long term," Brooks said. "We're seeing the bookings, we're seeing the interest."

Republican National Convention

The 2024 RNC is expected to deliver a direct and indirect economic impact of around $200 million this year, said Alison Prange, the chief operating officer for the Milwaukee host committee. Additional economic impact is expected for years to come, she said.

"Hopefully we'll see a 10-year or so economic impact," Prange said. "(Cleveland) is still feeling the impact of the 2016 Republican National Convention."

As the July RNC nears, more than 50 venues have been booked and the Republican National Committee is in the process of assigning hotels for delegates, Prange said. All of the attendees will be in hotels across southeast Wisconsin and Madison, rather than utilizing hotels across the border in Illinois, she said.

Summerfest and other festivals

Summertime events at Milwaukee's Henry Maier Festival Park had a $263 million economic impact in 2023, including around $160 million from Summerfest, said Sarah Smith Pancheri, Milwaukee World Festival Inc. president and CEO.

"That's a billion dollars every four years," Smith Pancheri said.

The organization that oversees Summerfest and maintains the festival park is also exploring additional possibilities for ways to activate the park, Smith Pancheri said. On April 15, it issued a request for proposals to consider expanded opportunities for programming and improvements.

'Top Chef'

Since the current season of "Top Chef" debuted on March 20 featuring Lupi & Iris and other local restaurants, the upscale downtown dining establishment has seen increases in both reservations and walk-in customers, said Lupi & Iris co-owner and executive chef Adam Siegel.

"The impact has been truly amazing," Siegel said, adding that the show has also given exposure to other Milwaukee restaurants, including DanDan and Three Brothers Restaurant.

Additionally, Lupi & Iris is a sought-after venue for the RNC, Prange said. The restaurant has booked one dinner event and is under contract on two brunch events, Siegel said.

Wisconsin State Fair and Milwaukee Mile

The one-day NASCAR truck series race held at the Milwaukee Mile racetrack at Wisconsin State Fair Park in August 2023 had an economic impact of $5.4 million, said Wisconsin State Fair Park executive director and CEO Shari Black.

The track is also hosting an IndyCar series during Labor Day weekend of 2024, with an expected economic impact of around $25 million for the two-day race, she said.

After the close of the 2024 Wisconsin State Fair, work will begin on several improvement projects at the fairgrounds, including infrastructure improvements and enhanced signage and lighting, Black said. Additionally, renovations are planned for the popular Cream Puff Pavilion, with completion expected before the 2025 fair, she said.