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Steve Marcus Calls for Downtown Sculptures, Sales Tax for Civic Projects

Michelle Maternowski

For more than half a century, Steve Marcus has helped shape the city of Milwaukee.

From his role in running the family business, the Marcus Corporation, and its network of hotels, movie theaters, and restaurants, to his philanthropic work, Marcus has had a say in what the city looks and feels like.

Steve Marcus passed along the day-to-day operations of the business to his son, Greg, a few years ago.  But he remains Chairman of the Board of Directors, and he's able to offer advice based on his decades of business acumen.  

But now, Marcus is turning his attention to an art project he hopes will reinvigorate Wisconsin Avenue, and the downtown corridor.

Marcus says he wants to line Wisconsin Avenue from the art museum to 5th or 6th Street with monumental sculptures done by well-known artists. They would be borrowed to minimize cost and also to keep the sites new.

Plus, "art can sometimes be a little controversial. With this, if they don't like it, it's going to be gone soon anyway," he says.

Marcus hopes the art installations will attract new visitors and impress people looking to move to the city. He hopes it will drive more "action" to downtown while turning Wisconsin Avenue into a destination to be seen.

Perhaps most importantly, he says, it will help dispel stereotypes about downtown being a "dangerous place."

"I have many friends who haven't been downtown in 40 years," he says. "They don't have a clue what's happening in the downtown area - they're missing something. But I would see this as being the kind of attraction that they would come down just to see it, the way they come down for a basketball game right now."

Marcus says such a project could "improve the economic base of the community, if it will attract more people to locate offices over on the west side of the river," and drive tourism. But he says the community needs to be involved in the planning process of such civic projects. He says Milwaukee can't rely on its property taxes to support these projects; instead he calls for a dedicated sales tax for civic infrastructure.

The Marcus Corporation was founded by Steve Marcus's father in 1935. Steve Marcus was formerly president and CEO of the company.  Marcus Theaters is the fifth largest movie theater chain in the country, and the company owns 20 hotels and resorts, including the Pfister Hotel and downtown Milwaukee Hilton.

The conversation was the first in a series that Lake Effect is doing in partnership with the University Club, and was recorded in front of an audience - you can hear the audience Q&A below.

Audience Q&A with Steve Marcus