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Friday News Drop: The Baird Center, podcast wins and a groundhog loss

Wisconsin Center District / Milwaukee County Zoo

Milwaukee’s a big city with a lot going on. Catch up before spending your weekend either purposely or accidentally ignoring the news.

Introducing the Baird Center

On Friday, the Wisconsin Center District (WCD) finalized an agreement with Milwaukee-based financial firm Baird — which you may also know as Baird & Co., Robert W. Baird & Co., R.W. Baird & Co., etc. — to become the official naming rights partner of the Wisconsin Center.

Based on an updated rendering that accompanied a press release on Baird’s website, the facility will be referred to as the Baird Center when it opens in May 2024. Although I suppose we can all just start referring to it that way now. The new moniker is part of a 15-year naming rights agreement, the financial terms of which weren’t disclosed.

“The ideal naming rights partner would be homegrown, have a world-class reputation and, for the greatest possible success, share our core values and commitment to the city of Milwaukee,” WCD President and CEO Marty Brooks said. “Baird meets and exceeds those qualifications.”

Baird Chairman and CEO Steve Booth added: “The new state of the art convention center will enhance Milwaukee’s growing reputation as a modern, forward-looking city, and we are honored to support and be part of its success.”

On a recent podcast episode, our very own Urban Spelunkers Nate Imig from Radio Milwaukee and Bobby Tanzilo of OnMilwaukee provided a live update of the $456 million expansion project, which will include a 300,000-square-foot exhibit hall and 2,000-person capacity rooftop ballroom among its many features.

The mayor’s plaza plan

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson has put forth a $15.75 million plan to construct Vel R. Phillips Plaza, giving some much-needed momentum to the long-gestating project.

The idea for the plaza originated with Johnson’s predecessor, Tom Barrett, who included it in a 2019 proposal that more prominently featured an extension of the Hop that at the time would’ve cost $46.8 million. The streetcar element led the Common Council to nix the proposal, which called for $5 million to build the plaza.

Four years later, the price tag has more than tripled for the project slated for West Wisconsin Avenue between Vel R. Phillips Avenue and Fifth Street, which would feature:

  • A nearly 3,000-square-foot space for food-and-beverage retail
  • A dedicated area for community events such as farmers markets
  • A station for the East-West Bus Rapid Transit line
  • A garden, an informational kiosk and public art installations

You can see artist renderings of the project from the Kubala Washatko Architects below and get more information from Tom Daykin’s story at JSOnline.

Our podcasts are officially excellent

The Milwaukee Press Club revealed the recipients of its 2022 Excellence in Journalism Awards, and everyone at Radio Milwaukee was very proud to see two of our podcasts represented in the audio category.

The aforementioned Nate Imig along with Michail Takach of the Wisconsin LGBTQ History Project were among the winners in the Best Original Podcast category for Be Seen, our series documenting the state’s LGBTQ history. Salam Fatayer and Erin Bagatta also were recognized for the Uniquely Milwaukee episode, “Living without alcohol in America’s drunkest state,” in the category of (get ready to stifle a giggle) Best Long Hard Feature Story.

All four will be among those honored at the Milwaukee Press Club Gridiron and Awards Dinner on May 12. You can listen to the award-winning Uniquely Milwaukee episode below and find the seven-episode first season of Be Seen here.

Uniquely Milwaukee: Living Without Alcohol

Goodbye, Gordy

Earlier this month, the long shadow of death claimed the Milwaukee County Zoo’s beloved groundhog, who a month or so ago “predicted” six more weeks of winter (kudos for absolutely nailing that one, Gordy).

Around March 1 — a little more than a month shy of his fifth birthday — the zoo’s animal care team noticed Gordy’s appetite and energy levels weren’t up to his normal standards. An examination at the zoo’s Animal Health Center revealed a buildup of fluid around his lungs, which turned out to be blood — likely from a cancerous mass that had ruptured. The team removed the fluid, but Gordy’s decline continued the following day, so they made the difficult decision to euthanize him March 3.

The groundhog came to Milwaukee from Indiana when he was just 6 weeks old and called the Stackner Animal Encounter building home. He was particularly fond of bananas, raw broccoli and peanuts, and the zookeepers noted his “goofy and friendly personality.”

For more on Gordy’s life and what he meant to the people he came in contact with, read Amy Schwabe’s lovely remembrance over at JSOnline.