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How Milwaukee’s convention center went from MECCA to modern

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 A large white building with dark windows sits on the corner of two busy streets with a city skyline behind it.
Adam Levin
The MECCA in 1975.

Every week on Urban Spelunking, Radio Milwaukee’s Nate Imig and OnMilwaukee’s Bobby Tanzilo dig into the buildings and architectural features that help retain the city’s sense of history while it builds for the future.

On this week’s episode, Nate and Bobby make podcast history by saying the phrase “convention center” 474 times, breaking the previous record held by the well-known Conventional Thinking podcast.

OK, maybe they don’t make history, and there definitely isn’t a podcast by that name (although there should be for the pun alone). But convention centers are most certainly the topic of conversation as they point the wayback machine to the Milwaukee Exposition and Convention Center and Arena, aka MECCA.

While Nate and Bobby never get around to debating the merits of having the word “and” appear twice in a seven-word acronym, they do dig into the history of Brew City’s MECCA. The project broke ground in 1971, when, as Bobby says in the episode, “we were really trying to get in on the convention game as we saw other cities doing the same thing and felt like we needed to compete.”

And compete we did after erecting a building that, through a 2023 lens, can most charitably be described as “utilitarian.” Bobby provides some excellent background about the pre-construction design drama and his usual treasure trove of information in this OnMilwaukee article, as well as the podcast, which you can listen to using the player at the top of the page.