Fiserv Forum spring in step of Deer District

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Chicago (US)-based Hunden Strategic Partners (HSP) is a full-service global real estate development advisory practice, providing public and private sector clients with confidence and results so they can move their projects from concept through execution.

Rob Hunden, President, Hunden Strategic Partners, US, presents the case study of Deer District in Milwaukee (US) in an exclusive to ‘Coliseum’ – the stadium or arena-based entertainment district and mixed-use district that’s really come to life in Milwaukee.

HSP modus operandi

Conduct market, financial feasibility and impact studies on:

  • Stadiums/Arenas
  • Entertainment Districts
  • Hotels, Convention Centers
  • Mixed-Use Districts


Placemaking and Real Estate Advisory

  • Market analysis and financial feasibility;
  • Amenities and connectivity;
  • Physical programing;
  • Owner’s rep and management;
  • Economic and fiscal impact analysis;
  • Business plans;
  • RFQ/P solicitation and selection processes;
  • Partnership options; and
  • Funding options/public incentives.

What Hunden Strategic Partners do all over the place is work for co-places. It conducts a study on the economic and fiscal impact announcements, deal, development for any kind of game change real estate development – whether it’s an arena or stadium or the districts around them or even a one-off project or all about that real estate development per se, economic development, placemaking, and tourism development.

Hunden Strategic Partners has played a strategic role in the development of the Fiserv Forum and the Deer District in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, US.

Fiserv Forum

The 17,341-capacity Fiserv Forum is a multipurpose arena located in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It is the home of the Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association (NBA).

The Milwaukee Bucks are an American professional basketball team based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (US). The Bucks compete in the National Basketball Association (NBA) as a member of the league’s Eastern Conference Central Division. The team was founded in 1968 as an expansion team, and play at the Fiserv Forum.

Deer District

Developed on 30 acres of land that formerly was home to the Park East Freeway, Deer District is more than Milwaukee’s premiere location for sports and entertainment, it is Milwaukee’s newest neighborhood – a neighborhood built for Milwaukee to live, work and play.

Featuring Fiserv Forum at the center, Deer District strives to be a 365-day destination, serving as a hub for Milwaukee’s vibrant future and connecting the existing downtown neighborhoods. From 150+ events a year, myriad dining and entertainment options and best-in-class commercial and real estate opportunities, Deer District redefines downtown Milwaukee.

Hunden takes a closer look at how a new arena (Fiserv Forum) transformed this downtown from unknown and underappreciated and took it out from its dark alleys to a vibrant nightlife scene with a national audience.

HSP role:

  • Designed a combined NBA Arena and Entertainment District;
  • Connected once separated neighborhoods;
  • Created a readymade gathering place for everyone;
  • Extended an existing historic bar district; and
  • Another example of how a new sports arena or stadium can be a powerful catalyst for development.


Come to nought

Milwaukee had ambitious Citywide freeway plans, about half of which never came to fruition. It built the Park East elevated expressways in the 1960s that was planned to connect to a lakefront expressway, which never materialized.

The nearby Haymarket neighborhood was cut off from downtown by the little-used Park East Spur. Its placement suffocated the two neighborhoods’ growth viability.

Total transformation

Informed Hunden, “The Deer district has been quite a transformation and this new arena and the district around it transformed the downtown from really sort of a tough situation to a vibrant nightlife scene. The Hunden Strategic Partners actually did a study for downtown Milwaukee a number of years ago, probably seven years back all about their nightlife in downtown. What we discovered is that they have the Bradley Street area, and they have the area where the Bucks play but it did not have the charm around it and was only activated on nights when the Bucks played. There really wasn’t any connectivity between those notes. So, it was really tough for downtown Milwaukee.”

Fiserv Forum and the Deer District

There has been a 360 degree change to the whole area.

Walking ‘Coliseum’ through the whole development, Hunden stated, “It was designed to be a combined NBA arena and entertainment district and extended the existing district that centered on a river and it was really a great example of how stadium and arena can be here in the middle to create a halo.”

Everything about the Deer District history dates back to the 1960s. There were this big, audacious freeway plans and half of them never came to fruition. So, the City built a Park East elevated expressway in the 1960s that was supposed to be connected to the lakefront but that too never saw the light of day. Community resistance to the development also surfaced.


Hunden reminisced that nothing was going smooth for the Deer District and the 20,000-capacity multipurpose arena Bradley Center which was once the home of the Milwaukee Bucks had become passé.

Hope floated in the form of the Third Street District but that too got “stifled and in 2004 the Park East Spur was dismantled but not replaced with much of anything. So, this whole area was just sort of treading water at best. They had a lot of challenges and things were not just great. And the place got a little enlivened only when it was a gameday”.

Seventeen years back the Park East Elevated Freeway was finally cleared in 2004 leaving some empty City blocks and this allowed for the expansion of the convention district in the West part of downtown and pointed towards joining urban development in the Haymarket with downtown Milwaukee.


The vision was to have a district around the newly-constructed Fiserv Forum as well as the restored Pabst Brewing Campus which was proposed to be renovated and redeveloped in many different shapes and forms. The restored Pabst Brewing area was sort of its own little island and it was totally separated from the Old World 3rd Street and the Water Street Nightlife by these “not so great arenas”. So, the Deer District’s restaurant structures were designed in a minimalist contemporary, exposed beam style, two-level block-long entertainment district to the East with a walkthrough alley connecting the arena to the Old World 3rd Street, a small but lively historic district with numerous bars and restaurants.

Connecting the dots

The Deer District was situated in an underdeveloped area on the Northwest outskirts of the ‘Westown’ downtown district.

So, before the Fiserv Forum was developed and opened in the year 2018, there was this former home of the Bucks – the Bradley Center which was torn down in the year 2019. By 2019, the district was beginning to fill in after the Fiserv Forum opened its doors but the rest of the district was still a “work-in-progress”. The arena’s progress set the stage for new private-sector demand for office space, eateries, events space, and new residential development.

And all these old arenas – the Wisconsin Convention Center, the 12,700-capacity UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, the Bradley Center, and the spiffy Fiserv Forum – all lined up in a row like a “bunch of battleships”.

A change since 2020 is that the former home of the Milwaukee Bucks, the Bradley Center, is now demolished, ready for new development.

Vision after full buildout

Today, the area has a lot of walkability and activity happening. The downtown is home to 83,000 workers and 32,000 residents, and the urban core has really spread out and it is often a challenge to connect these things. As this fills in and expands out, it helps connect these disconnected parts of the town.

NBA battleships

The new Bucks training facility is near-completion as Hunden stated, “For a short time, this was the only City anywhere that sported three standing National Basketball Association (NBA) arenas in geographic timeline succession (the battleships all lined up) – the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, Bradley Center and Fiserv Forum. The 1950 arena – the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena was home to the City’s last NBA championship team, the 1970 Milwaukee Bucks.”

Added Hunden, “It was very interesting to see all the three arenas lined up before they took down the Bradley Center. The NBA arena trio ended with the May 31st, 2019 demolition of the BMO Harris Bradley Center. That came after the NBA let the team know that their once state-of-the-art 1988 arena was ‘unfit’ for an NBA team, and Milwaukee was in danger of losing its only downtown major league sports franchise.”

The team threatened a move to Seattle. In July 2015, the State Senate approved funding for a new arena and Fiserv Forum construction began.

The $524 million Fiserv Forum opened on August 26th, 2018. Designed by a partnership of two premier Kansas City sports architecture firms – Populous and HNTB. Its record attendance, set in February 2020, is 18,412, over a thousand more than its capacity, but still 200 short of standard capacity at the Bradley Center, which cost $91 million in 1988, equal to $215 million in 2020 dollars.

The $524 million Fiserv Forum is much cheaper than the 18,064-capacity Chase Center in San Francisco where “things are a lot more expensive as a general rule which is over a billion dollars so”.

The Fiserv Forum construction did not cost a bomb when compared to many other arenas but it is very “cool in its design – the indoor-outdoor type that opens everything in to the outside and the outside in so that makes it feel much like part of the neighborhood as opposed to having been totally separated of this big compound. We think that helps a lot in design that was done so well that really opens that to the outside.”

The Fiserv Forum, the anchor of the Deer District, is a contemporary architectural marvel, and changing the way visitors see Milwaukee.

The MECCA Sports Bar and Grill and the Punch Bowl Social anchor the indoor/outdoor two-story complex with a partially-covered alleyway leading visitors to the Old World 3rd Street behind Punch Bowl Social.

Coming alive

Entertainment Districts need a variety of vantage points to create a diverse set of experiences with each visit.

The Entertainment District component of the entire Deer District is a compelling aspect to the arena’s presence in downtown Milwaukee because it is activated all the time now.

Whether or not someone has a ticket to a game or concert, the pedestrian plazas between MECCA, Punch Bowl Social and the Fiserv’s glass wall has become a needed component of creating what the City has lacked: A fitting public space to bring a critical mass of dining and nightlife options.

As Hunden pointed out, “Even if there is nothing going on, people can still go and hang out there to be programed in a way to continue to elevate it as a place to go after work or even during the day. So, it’s really helping to create that critical mass.”

The culmination of Milwaukee’s efforts was finally realized in July 2021 when the Milwaukee Bucks were playing their home games against their peer team the Phoenix Suns in their first NBA Finals Championship in 50 years.

Hunden continued, “The Deer District became ground-zero for City and Statewide spirit as more fans showed up on each successive night during the series. The area becoming ground-zero was great PR because I would say that the Deer District – if anybody watched the finals – is as big a star as the Bucks themselves because everything was showing that fans going there, they couldn’t get a ticket, they would still go there and watch the game outside and have a great time and it was super fantastic.”

Bursting at the seams

The deciding and final Game 6, in Milwaukee, brought as many as 80,000 total fans to the Deer District in a single night. Milwaukee won the best-of-seven series 4-2. And even inside when the games were out of town, they had a watch-party inside (a social gathering for the purpose of watching a specific event or program on television) with the upper level closed off so that they could get 9,000 just to watch the game in Phoenix and then 65,000 people outside so it becomes a communal event which is great.

It was the ‘mill’ing crowds of fans on the Milwaukee streets. Supporters went berserk as the Milwaukee Bucks won their first National Basketball Association (NBA) (US) title in five decades on the night of July 20th, 2021. The Bucks beat its peer team Phoenix Suns 105-98 to win the series in six games in the best of seven series. The edge-of-the-seat thrilling match was held at the Fiserv Forum in the United States.

By the horde

The rise from pandemic to public crowds is likely the most dramatic in Milwaukee of any City in the US, beginning in June this year. From an average of 10K people per week in February through March, to between 100K and 150K per week by mid-June this year.

HSP technology helps track crowd activity every hour, every day back to January 1 of 2017.

Hunden stated that almost one-third of visitors to the Deer District live over 50 miles away. A winning NBA team is helpful towards attracting out-of-towners to the City, however, just as important is having a dynamic and attractive development in the center of the action. Fans should be able to enjoy an out-of-the-world experience leaving them with a sense of awe so that they vow to return again.

The crowd comes from all segments of the society – like people who make no money like college students to people making household income of over 200,000 per year.

Where do people at Deer District come from?

HSP uses geo-fencing technology to read the behaviors and movements of crowds. Fans that have been to the Deer District between 5 pm and midnight since February 2021 – the total comes to around 1 million people, and most of those people did not have tickets to any event, proving that the Deer District has become the new hub of nightlife and entertainment in Metro Milwaukee, Wisconsin and beyond.

Draw capacity

  • The Milwaukee Bucks are not the Green Bay Packers (National Football League team based in Wisconsin) in terms of national loyalty, but still respectable;
  • There are representatives from every major City that have visited the Deer District at least once in the past six months;
  • Wisconsin has a special relationship with Phoenix and Florida, the most popular place for retirees to keep warm in winter;
  • Aside from Wisconsin and Chicagoland, there is strong visitorship from the Twin Cities – St Louis, Eastern Iowa; and
  • People are coming from all over the country, of course some people are fans coming from all around to watch the Finals but then there are other people too just coming to Milwaukee to the Deer District. So, it’s very impressive how much draw capacity this has.


Fiserv Forum Foot Traffic – Close Up


The Alleyway

  • A demand-generator like an NBA arena draws people not only on game nights; and
  • The Alleyway is very conducive to guiding fans to the area’s bars and restaurants.


Tracking loopholes

The HSP technology helps track when the people are at the Deer District, where are they hanging up. The highest concentration of people was at Deer District Plaza, The MECCA Bar & Grill and The Beer Garden during the evenings.

Hunden pointed out, “So, what’s great about this technology is we can figure out where people are actually going and where the gaps are. So, what we now know is that there are some gaps (places which people do not frequent) and there is the next stage of the Deer District development that will be studied to figure out what should be built next to expand it out and these kind of data which shows the empty areas helps to figure it out as to what should be developed next.”

He added, “This is a really fun technology that we can now have in use to help clients like the Bucks to really move forward next steps as well as Cities trying to figure out how to fill in their gaps. The technology also helps to figure out where people walked with the highest frequency and the greatest numbers.”

Spoilt for choice

Hunden further pointed out that people want a critical mass of action to choose from when they go to an entertainment district and people want to be able to go to a place where they have a lot of options – they can just go and meet up with friends and family or co-workers and know that there will be a number of options if one place is too crowded, they can get into another place or different budgets and those sort of things in terms of prices in the sense that which place is wallet-friendly.

Novelty effect

The Deer District has the novelty effect. When the Bucks won in July this year, it kind of created history. But, to pull in fans like moths to the flame, there should be a ton of offerings. But, the Deer District still does not have a ton of offerings but, they have some big anchor tenants Hunden advised, “For a long-term sustainability, that’s really what they need to start to look at is having that sort of urban fabric woven together with lots of different options in a walkable area. Otherwise, it loses its novelty and people will stop going there so you always will have to keep it fresh and keep those options – food and beverages is the key to that – different experiences, different food options, different price points – all of that is absolutely critical for Deer District to be on a roll.”

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