Gov. Tony Evers announces over $36M for building projects across the state

Funding for projects in Milwaukee, Janesville, Green Bay and Door County was originally rejected by state lawmakers

A tan mall exterior with a parking lot and trees in front of it.
A former Sears is proposed to be the location of the Woodman’s Sports and Convention Center in Janesville, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Gov. Tony Evers allocated $36.6 million in federal pandemic relief funds to building projects across Wisconsin Thursday after state lawmakers originally rejected funding those projects in the state budget.

The projects include a new soccer stadium in Milwaukee, a sports and convention center in Janesville, an expansion for the Green Bay National Railroad Museum, an arts center in Milwaukee and upgrades to the Door County Peninsula Players Theatre. Evers, a Democrat, originally proposed funding those projects in his $3.8 billion capital budget, but the Republican-controlled budget committee rejected those proposals and others during the budget process.

In a statement, the governor’s office said the investments, made with American Rescue Plan Act funds, are projected to support over 400 jobs and nearly $68 million in economic activity for Wisconsin.

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“These five projects will have a long-term impact on our state’s economy and on economic development in these communities from Green Bay to Janesville,” Evers said in a statement.

The largest chunk of money — $15 million — is headed to the Woodman’s Sports and Convention Center in Janesville, a 130,000-square-foot ice arena and convention center. That redevelopment project will be built at the site of a former Sears store at the Uptown Janesville mall.

Christine Rebout, the co-chair of the friends group for the center, said she was “excited and grateful” to hear about the state money.

“We view this project as really a community project that enhances the region and really state of Wisconsin,” Rebout said.

“To be able to fully design and equip it the way we needed to, the state funding was really important for us,” she added.

A parking lot in front of a closed Sears store has tire marks.
A former Sears store is the proposed site of the Woodman’s Sports and Convention Center on Friday, Nov. 3, 2023, Janesville, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

Discussions around the center started in 2019, as Rebout said there was a “gap” for facilities for large-scale meetings and youth sporting events in the Janesville area. The center will be home to the Janesville Jets hockey team, but the ice will be removed for other sports to be played during portions of the year. There will also be 20,000 square feet of space for the conference center.

Construction could begin sometime next year. Janesville city manager Kevin Lahner said the center will be a destination once it’s complete.

“It is a regional event center, so it’s going to attract folks from throughout the area, including from Illinois and Iowa and other places to come to Janesville and to experience our community,” Lahner said.

A draft of the Milwaukee Pro Soccer stadium
Photo courtesy Kacmarcik Enterprises

Evers also allocated $9.3 million for Iron District Milwaukee, the site of a new soccer stadium. The team that will play at the 8,000 seat stadium is set to join the USL Championship, the second-highest tier of professional soccer in the nation.

“Having the backing of the Governor’s office and the state will provide important momentum for bringing the Iron District Milwaukee to fruition and delivering a catalytic development,” said Jim Kacmarcik, chairman and CEO of Kacmarcik Enterprises, which owns the rights to the team.

The $220 million development will include a hotel and entertainment district. It will also be the future home to Marquette University men’s and women’s soccer clubs and men’s and women’s lacrosse teams.

Gov. Tony Evers meets with leaders of the Bronzeville Center for the Arts project on Wednesday, March 1, 2023. Evan Casey/WPR

The Bronzeville Center for the Arts, which leaders hope will be a transformative community and arts center in Milwaukee, also got $5 million in funding. That money will help construct a planned 50,000-square-foot building, which will replace a former Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources office on Milwaukee’s King Drive.

The building will likely include a gallery for Black art from across Milwaukee and the state. It could also have an artist-in-residence program and be used for events and teaching. Leaders also hope it will become a community gathering space for the Bronzeville neighborhood, which has been the focus of a decade-long revitalization effort.

Kristen Hardy, the chair of the center’s board of directors, wasn’t available for an interview Friday, but she said she was grateful for the funding.

“We are grateful to Governor Evers for his continued support of the Bronzeville Center for the Arts and our vision for a destination arts museum that increases our collective knowledge of and engagement with African American art, art history and artists. As we continue the design process and evaluate community feedback, this announcement is a major step toward making our vision a reality,” Hardy said in a statement.

Evers also allocated $7 million for the Green Bay National Railroad Museum to build a future expansion. In a social media post, the museum said the expansion will help meet “the growing need for museum offerings, accessibility, and immersive programming.”

The Door County Peninsula Players Theatre got $330,000 for upgrades, which will provide safe and modern dormitory facilities, according to the statement from the governor’s office.