It’s full speed ahead with plans to extend the Milwaukee streetcar to the Wisconsin Center District – and maybe to Fiserv Forum, the new home of the Milwaukee Bucks.

That’s the message that city officials, including Public Works Director Jeff Polenske, and consulting engineers from HNTB are delivering to community groups and other downtown stakeholders, including the Bucks.

The Bucks have been asked to consider paying for the portion of the extension that would connect the streetcar to their new arena, but the team has been non-committal.

Known as The Hop, the $124 million streetcar opened in November. Ridership has been higher than anticipated on the 2.1 mile loop that runs from the Intermodal Station through downtown to the lower east side.

RELATED: Ridership of The Hop, the new Milwaukee streetcar, averaged 2,191 in the first 2 weeks

Tracks have been laid for a lakefront loop that would open in 2020. That line would extend through the Couture, a high-rise apartment tower planned by Barrett Lo Visionary Development LLC. 

Streetcar rides are free for the first year under a 12-year, $10 million sponsorship by Potawatomi Hotel & Casino.

The planning for the convention center extension has proceeded in earnest as a decision nears on whether or not Milwaukee is awarded the Democratic National Convention in 2020. Other contenders for the convention include Houston and Miami Beach. 

Bucks Senior Vice President Alex Lasry is leading the push to bring the DNC to Milwaukee. A decision on the convention is expected early this year.

The flurry of streetcar planning activity comes following word last month that the city had not secured $20 million in federal funds to extend The Hop to the arena. City officials have stressed in briefings that the service would expand despite the failure to secure the federal money in the most recent transportation budget cycle.

The city has $20 million available for a partial extension of the service, from the streetcar headquarters at N. 5th and W. Clybourn Ave. north on 5th Street to Wisconsin Ave. The new line would traverse an empty city-owned lot that sits along Wisconsin between 5th and Philips Ave. and end across from the main entrance to the convention hall.

“It’s our goal to have that section done by the end of 2019 or early 2020,” said Ald. Robert Bauman, a streetcar advocate who represents much of downtown. “It’s only about two and a half blocks.”

The line in question has been on the streetcar’s map of future expansion for years and would continue north on Philips to the new arena and then to the Bronzeville neighborhood.

At the time that the city learned that the federal funding was not coming through, DPW chief Polenske said streetcar expansion work was proceeding.

“We’re continuing to move forward with our preliminary engineering and utility coordination activities for the extension towards Bronzeville and will continue seeking out additional funding sources to move the project forward,” Polenske said.

RELATED: Milwaukee streetcar expansion to Fiserv Forum stalled by failing to win federal grant

Neither Polenske nor the office of Mayor Tom Barrett responded to requests for interviews about the streetcar extension.

The expanded service is detailed on The Hop’s website, referring to 4th Street – the previous name of what is now Vel R. Philips Ave.

“The proposed Fourth Street Extension is an important next step to expanding The Hop to more neighborhoods, especially Bronzeville and Walker’s Point,” the website says.

“This extension will link the new Milwaukee Bucks Arena and ancillary development, and numerous destinations in the Westown neighborhood, to other parts of the streetcar line.”

The site adds: “This estimated $40 million extension includes .75 route miles, 1.17 track miles, 3 stops and one additional streetcar vehicle. The Common Council has approved the necessary $20 million local match needed for this extension which will be funded through Tax Incremental Financing.


Time lapse of the Milwaukee streetcar route
Mike De Sisti, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“The City continues to evaluate and pursue additional funding opportunities for the remaining approximately $20 million in capital costs.”

The Bucks are seen as a logical potential source for that additional funding.

The Bucks opened their $524 million arena in late summer.  Half of the cost of the arena was paid by city, state and county governments.

The Bucks development arm plans to open new bars and restaurants this spring in the entertainment block just east of the arena’s main entrance. The streetcar extension would have a stop at that area.


General streetcar safety tips for motorists, pedestrians and riders
City of Milwaukee

Bauman and Bucks President Peter Feigin said that the city had approached the Bucks and the team’s billionaire owners about paying to extend the line to Fiserv Forum.

“They have been asked and they have politely declined,” Bauman said.

“I would think it’s a no-brainer for them,” he said, adding, “but I guess billionaires don’t become billionaires by simply giving out money all day.”

Earlier this week, Feigin discussed the streetcar extension with Polenske and HNTB engineers working on the project.

He didn’t reject the idea of Bucks funding, but indicated that a lot of details were not yet known about the cost.

“There’s been no tangible proposal,” he said. “We just said we’re focused on our own development for now.”


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