Wisconsin Center District enacts 20% salary cuts for convention center staff in wake of pandemic

CLOSE

The Wisconsin Center District is buckling up for a rough ride in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

The full-time staff was notified Monday that across-the-board 20 percent salary cuts will be instituted next week through at least the end of June. Around 70 staffers are affected.

Up to 225 part-timers who work individual events have been idled since the outbreak.

Live Updates:The latest on coronavirus in Wisconsin

Daily Digest: What you need to know about coronavirus in Wisconsin

More Coverage: Coronavirus in the U.S and around the world

In addition, non-essential capital projects are being delayed, a hiring freeze instituted and expenses cut, including travel and utilities, according to Marty Brooks, president and chief executive officer of the district.

“We’re doing the same thing every other organization in the world is doing to try and make sure to survive this,” Brooks said in an interview Tuesday.

The Wisconsin Center District, a state-created agency, operates the convention center, Miller High Life Theatre and UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.

The coronavirus outbreak has forced the cancellation of dozens of events, including conventions, concerts, trade shows and two sports seasons (the Milwaukee Admirals hockey team and the Milwaukee Wave indoor soccer team).

Last week, the proposed Wisconsin Center expansion‘s bond issue was delayed indefinitely because of financial turmoil in the markets related to the coronavirus.

Brooks said he has also reached out to Joel Brennan, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Administration, to make the facility available if needed by the state. Brennan is also a board member of the Wisconsin Center District.

Brooks updated the district’s board in a memo earlier this week. He said no one with the organization has come down with COVID-19 but that everyone has been affected and that staff has been encouraged to work remotely.

Brooks said the cuts instituted will reduce expenses by $2.25 million for the fiscal year.

“The need for further adjustments will be closely monitored over the next 30-45 days and specifically watchful for changes made in connection with the Democratic National Convention,” Brooks wrote.

He added “inquiries for date availability in all three WCD facilities for the third and fourth quarters of this year are encouraging and we are guardedly optimistic that we will be able to offset some of the impact we are experiencing through June.”

The Wisconsin Center plans to double its space with the expansion, which could cost up to $425 million. The project would be financed by borrowing those funds through a bond sale.

That sale had been tentatively set for April 20 — assuming the center district’s board approves the proposal at its April 2 meeting.

But, with financial markets tanking because of the economic devastation tied to the pandemic, that bond sale will be delayed indefinitely.

Meanwhile, Brooks hopes to convince the Milwaukee Common Council to support the project by creating a program for the Wisconsin Center to make annual payments to the city in lieu of property taxes.

As a government-operated facility, the center is exempt from paying property taxes.

The council in February passed a resolution supporting the project, which would be funded by countywide hotel, restaurant and car rental taxes levied by the center district. The expansion doesn’t involve city funds, but requires city approval.

But council members, led by Ald. Bob Bauman, are now rescinding that support to try to obtain a portion of the center district’s tax revenue. 

The council on Tuesday voted to rescind the resolution of support. That will delay indefinitely the bond sale.

Tom Daykin of the Journal Sentinel contributed to this article.

Autoplay

Show Thumbnails

Show Captions

Read or Share this story: https://www.jsonline.com/story/news/2020/03/24/wisconsin-center-district-institutes-20-salary-cuts-wake-pandemic/2907468001/