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Global Traveler|August 2021
Milwaukee reopens with new and resumed projects on tap.
By Katherine Rodeghier

As with myriad Midwestern cities, Wisconsin’s largest suffered as COVID-19 closed businesses and canceled or postponed events and new ventures. Following a record-breaking year for tourism in 2019, visitor spending in Milwaukee County dropped nearly 40 percent in 2020.

The cancellation of last summer’s Democratic National Convention was a major blow. It prompted “a big rush of disappointment. We didn’t get a chance to shine on a national and global scale,” said Lafayette Crump, Milwaukee’s commissioner for development. But landing the first major political party convention in city history gave Milwaukee “a genuine sense of accomplishment. Businesses got themselves ready for the big stage,” he said, and that readiness “will continue to pay dividends for years ahead.”

Milwaukee has been a meeting destination since its early history. At the confluence of three rivers and Lake Michigan, its name comes from millioki, meaning “gathering place at the waters” in the Potawatomi Native American language. German immigrants settled the city, bringing with them beer-making skills behind big-name breweries, including Miller and Pabst. City population hovers around 600,000, with about 1.5 million in the metro area.

Building on tourism developments launched before the pandemic, new and resumed projects are putting Milwaukee on the path to recovery in 2021, including a new home for the symphony, the resumption of a major music festival, the reopening of a Black history museum and the launch of an innovative food hall in the heart of downtown. In the long view, a $420 million expansion of the Wisconsin Center for meetings and conventions will break ground in early 2022.

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