The official opening of the expanded Baird Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Thursday (now officially Baird Center Day in The Fresh Coast City) was the realization of a plan put in motion when Wisconsin Center opened in 1998. Marty Brooks, president and CEO of Wisconsin Center District, was understandably emotional when he made the announcement. Standing in front of the new Great Five water feature in the sunny convention center, he thanked everyone who supported the project set in motion four years ago in the midst of a pandemic. Where a parking lot stood for decades is now a three-story event venue open for business just in time to host the Republican National Convention (RNC) in July.

Marty Brooks, Wisconsin Center District CEO and President at Baird Center Expansion Grand Opening Gala making a toast in a tuxedo.
Marty Brooks

“This building will elevate our city to its highest potential and create not-to-be-missed experiences for everyone who walks through the doors,” he said.

Peggy Williams Smith speaking at podium in Baird Center Expansion
Peggy Williams-Smith

Visit Milwaukee President and CEO Peggy Williams Smith estimated an additional 100,000 people would come to town each year because of the expansion.

What does the $456 million Baird Center expansion mean for meeting professionals? Smart Meetings attended the festivities to find out.

More Modern Space for Meetings

The North Expansion doubled the size of the convention center, added 24 new meeting rooms for a total of 52, added six new loading docks, and featured a 100,000-square-foot rooftop ballroom with an outdoor terrace and city views. A new parking structure makes getting to and from the venue convenient. A stepped wood seating area in the north lobby adds an interactive focal point. The total size of the expo hall is now 300,000 contiguous sq. ft. and when all meeting space is counted, it totals 1.3 million.

Read More: Convention Center: Bigger, Better, symBiotic

Baird Center Expansion North Lobby
Baird Center North Lobby

The former Wisconsin Center, now sponsored by the wealth management company Baird, is part of a collection of major meeting spaces in the walkable downtown area that includes Miller High Life Theatre and UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. The 17,500-seat Fiserv Forum, home of the NBA Milwaukee Bucks, and The Trade, an Autograph Collection boutique hotel, are mere blocks away. The Hilton Milwaukee and Hyatt Regency Milwaukee are attached to Baird Center by a skywalk.

The expansion and renovations on the original building were designed to meet LEED Silver certification standards. A solar roof will produce 98,120 kilowatt hours, the equivalent of CO2 emissions from 7,488,199 smartphones being charged. Ceramic fritted glass will increase energy efficiency and prevent bird collisions. LED lighting is equipped with occupancy sensors that adjust usage based on usage and daylight levels. A grey roof membrane and 320,000-gallon underground stormwater detention system along with low-flow plumbing fixtures will minimize water use. An innovative food scraps program mimics a natural food digestion process to turn solids into liquid and divert up to 438 tons of food waste a year from landfills.

Inside, the building was designed for inclusivity with sensory and nursing rooms and all-gender restrooms. Contracts optimized the construction benefit to local and minority contractors.

Baird Center Expansion Grand Opening Gala in rooftop ballroom.
Baird Center Expansion Grand Opening Gala

Art was a major focus with 21 artists, mostly local, adding cultural richness to the experience. Look for Syl, the hyperreal security guard sculpture by Serbian-American artist and Milwaukee resident Marc Sijan in the south entrance and a new female counterpart in the north entrance next to the water feature.

A time capsule filled by local students included artifacts as diverse as a map and a Palestinian flag.

Read More: Experience Nature & Modernity in Wisconsin

Operationally, the design will allow the Wisconsin Center District to book multiple events at the same time with seamless load-in and load-out. The additional space could also attract larger groups that couldn’t have considered the city before.

singer Idina Menzel in silver jumpsuit singingIn addition to the RNC, which will bring about 45,000 people to town, the first event after the Grand Opening Gala featuring “Frozen” singer Idina Menzel on Thursday night is Boys & Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee MVP Salute to Youth event on Monday night.

Visit Milwaukee reported that some months in the summer and fall are already completely booked with RFPs coming in up to 18 years out and some requesting holds for dates in 2031.