As soon as Jim Haertel heard Milwaukee was a finalist for the Democratic National Convention, he looked at the calendar of bookings for his business.
The owner of Best Place at the Historic Pabst Brewery told prospective brides calling to book their wedding receptions that the third week of July 2020 was blocked out until the decision on which city would land the convention was announced.
That was a good call, considering that many people lock in their wedding receptions 12 to 18 months in advance.
The Milwaukee Art Museum will likely be a venue for parties and other gatherings during the Democratic National Convention in July 2020. (Photo: Chelsey Lewis and Jim Nelson/Mil, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Milwaukee did get the convention, which is scheduled for July 13-16, 2020. Roughly 50,000 people are expected to come to Milwaukee including delegates and their families, media and tourists. Many will be in the city before the convention, and some after it as well.
While the speeches and media coverage will focus on what happens on the convention floor inside the new Fiserv Forum, hundreds of parties, breakfasts, luncheons and shindigs will be held at venues throughout the Milwaukee area.
A wedding reception for 200 was already booked in the Great Hall at Best Place two days before the convention starts.
“We’ll keep the wedding for the Saturday before since once people usually commit to a wedding, they’re not going to change it,” Haertel said Tuesday.
But people calling to reserve one of the three meeting spots — the Great Hall which can accommodate 250, Blue Ribbon Hall which has space for 150 and Captain’s Corner which seats 50 — during the convention were asked to either choose another date or find another venue.
Haertel expects his business will be busy, particularly since it’s just a few blocks from the Fiserv Forum where delegates will meet each day. As of Tuesday, no one had booked Best Place, but then the convention is still 489 days away.
“We’re so close and such a popular spot with such a great Milwaukee history,” said Haertel.
Even couples managing to book their wedding receptions close to the convention dates will have difficulty finding hotel rooms for their guests since Milwaukee’s hotels are expected to be filled.
At the Milwaukee County Historical Society, one prospective bride who had put a hold on the Saturday before the convention for her wedding reception decided against it once news spread of Milwaukee getting the nod.
“We were cautious and told them it was a possibility, and with the announcement, they backed out,” said Mame McCully, Milwaukee County Historical Society executive director. “It wasn’t to our advantage to book (wedding receptions the week of the DNC) because a bride will back out when she can’t get hotel rooms in town.”
Housed in a beautiful Beaux Arts-style building constructed as a bank, the historical society can accommodate 250 people indoors plus more space on a patio area next to Pere Marquette Park on the banks of the Milwaukee River. Guests can gather in the atrium or mezzanine and walk into a large bank vault filmed for a bank robbery scene in the 2009 Johnny Depp-as-John Dillinger movie “Public Enemies.”
The historical society’s exhibit scheduled for the summer of 2020 will be on Milwaukee’s political history with a focus on the city’s Socialist history and presidential visits. Not since 1916, when St. Louis hosted the Democratic National Convention, has a Midwestern city other than Chicago been the venue.
“We’re willing and excited to host events here,” said McCully. “It will be very neat to have an event here and be surrounded by all the stories of Milwaukee’s past.”
Wedding receptions are now being booked for the summer of 2020 at Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum and the nearby Charles Allis Art Museum overlooking the lakefront.
But rentals manager Megan Maikowski said July is generally not a busy time because of Summerfest and the Milwaukee Air & Water Show, with brides instead choosing dates in June, August and September.
“The Milwaukee Air & Water Show directly affects us. Mid- to late July we’re always hesitant and we disclose that with our brides,” said Maikowski.
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It’s unclear whether festivals normally scheduled in mid-July will move their dates. Summerfest will finish at least a week before the DNC. Though Summerfest 2020 dates have not been announced, if the music festival starts on the last Wednesday of June, like it has for years, the dates would be June 24-July 5.
The next week is usually open on the World Festival Inc. calendar, followed by Festa Italiana, which is scheduled July 19-21, 2019. Italian Community Center President Joseph Emanuele said no decision has been made regarding the festival next year.
“We will be discussing our options with Milwaukee World Festivals in the days and weeks ahead,” said Emanuele.
Bastille Days is held the second weekend of July and if the popular French-themed festival at Cathedral Square Park sticks to that schedule, the gathering would be held July 9-12, 2020. East Town Association, which organizes Bastille Days, is planning on those dates.
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“We’re excited to showcase downtown via Bastille Days to any DNC attendees who come into town ahead of the convention,” said East Town Association Executive Director Emily McElwee.
At the Milwaukee Art Museum, a busy spot for wedding receptions and other events in the scenic Santiago Calatrava-designed Quadracci Pavilion, no weddings were booked for the time of the convention. The local committee working on Milwaukee’s bid advised art museum officials last fall to keep the dates open.
“We kind of blocked them off on the calendar the second we heard,” said Amanda Peterson, Milwaukee Art Museum senior director of audience engagement.
In the summer of 2020, the Milwaukee Art Museum has scheduled shows on Scandinavian designs, a regional quilt-maker and a photography exhibition on the role of women in the workplace.
Museum officials are hoping to be a venue for events, though with one caveat. Since the art museum is a private, nonprofit it does not rent space to lobbying groups or for partisan events or trade shows.
“We’ve already gotten media requests,” said Peterson, noting that television companies are interested in broadcasting with the famous white brise soleil in the background.
“We’re in uncharted territory. We’ll work with the local committee to make sure they’re finding the right spots for all the events,” Peterson said.
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