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See the completed Baird Center at upcoming open house

Wisconsin Center District

If you’re a frequent visitor to Milwaukee’s downtown, you’ve both seen and had to tolerate the various construction-related activities happening around the convention center. So why not reward yourself by being among the first people to check out the completed project?

Following a grand-opening gala May 16, the Baird Center will host an open house from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, May 18. The free event will allow you to check out the vastly revamped complex, which opened 26 years and roughly 14 names ago but is now a more fitting presence in the area thanks in large part to its updated exterior.

While the previous iteration of the convention center felt more like a concrete bunker, the refreshed venue goes big on glass that’s much friendlier to the eye and — we’re told — birds. The lines and angles are striking, and the overall presentation will make for some pretty cool photos when everything’s lit up at night.

The real draw of the open house, though, is the interior. Through various first looks given to other media outlets, we know the designers went heavy on artistic touches throughout the space: murals, paintings, sculptures and even a water feature. The grand ballroom has some of that artsy feel with wave-shaped ceiling lights and is reportedly the biggest in the city (you can get a more complete look via this 360-degree online tour).

Wisconsin Center District

Also very big are the various exhibit halls, which boosted the total exhibition space from around 190,000 square feet to 300,000. As impressive as that number is, it’s only a fraction of the Baird Center’s overall footprint of 1.3 million square feet. Helping fill all that space are a tourist information center run by Visit Milwaukee, the MKE Market with grab-and-go food and beverages, an array of gathering spaces along the hallways and a pair of open-air balconies.

The folks behind the project shared a few numbers that made this whole thing possible:

  • 48,000 cubic yards of concrete poured
  • 5,850 tons of structural steel used
  • 2,741 piles driven
  • 2,359 total people working on-site
  • 1.4 million total worker hours

The fruits of that labor, according to the Wisconsin Center District, are expected to attract at least $12.6 billion in state spending and $150 million in incremental state income due in part to a vastly expanded facility capable of holding simultaneous events without everyone tripping over each other. Bigger events are also now on the table — among them the Republican National Convention this July.

If you want to get a look at the Baird Center before the elephant party, just show up anytime between 1 and 5 p.m. next Saturday, May 18. The parking garage, which you can enter from Kilbourne Avenue or Wells Street, will open at 12:30 p.m. and will be free to all visitors.

Lidia Sharapova