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The economic possibilities for Milwaukee's downtown Iron District

Rendering of the soccer stadium planned for downtown Milwaukee.
Courtesy of Iron District MKE
Rendering of the soccer stadium planned for downtown Milwaukee.

A new men’s soccer league is coming to Milwaukee and is expected to be housed in the Iron District — a new development that will be located at 10th and North James Lovell streets. The proposed area would have an outdoor soccer stadium, a hotel and potentially two arts venues.

It would bring service industry jobs and economic growth to the city. But with similar public investments in other stadium developments, the money has often stayed in the pockets of private investors. COWS research center at UW-Madison and Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH) want to make sure that working people don’t get left out of the plans for the Iron District.

Iron District
Google Maps
The Iron District will be bordered by N. James Lovell St. to the east, Michigan St. to the north and 794/I-43 to the east and south.

These organizations released a report, titled Worker Power Levels The Playing Field, exploring how to ensure the project creates living wage jobs and proposes imitating the blueprint of the Bucks' Deer District.

Laura Dresser, COWS associate director, says requiring developing entities to create favorable conditions for workers has happened too infrequently. She says, "We have normalized in this nation throwing money at stadium deals and the owners of teams in order to keep them in cities. But we have not normalized demanding anything for that money."

Dresser continues, "If you're giving money to another billionaire who happens to love soccer and own a team without demanding anything from it, it's just flushing out money down the toilet."

Peter Rickman, MASH president, argues that given Milwaukee's current economic state, the city cannot afford to lose this opportunity to improve the climate for the service industry labor force. He says, "Our city is defined, unfortunately, by a crisis of racial and economic inequality and injustice. Roughly, 75,000 workers in our city are employed in service and hospitality. if we're going to transform this city, it's going to be because we take these jobs and transform them into living wage union jobs."

This would entail roughly doubling the standard wages of service industry jobs, as Fiserv Forum often does for their workers. It would also involve allowing and encouraging workers to unionize and establish a valued voice. Dresser explains, "[ A worker's union] is really important because of the ability of those workers to demand more."

Rickman believes that we're now seeing a shift in philosophy at City Hall that will allow these new standards. He says, "It's up to policymakers to say to the developers, 'Before you bring your plan for us to shovel $10s of millions of taxpayer subsidies into your coffers, make sure you take care of this thing first."


Mallory Cheng was a Lake Effect producer from 2021 to 2023.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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