Shaping a new vision for the Alliant Energy Center Campus


MAKING THE ALLIANT ENERGY CENTER A CATALYST FOR TOMORROW

A message from our Chair Chuck Erickson 

The Alliant Energy Center Redevelopment Committee has had a very busy first part of the year with the completion of the Alliant Energy Center Potential Market Opportunities report and the Committee’s subsequent recommendations on a variety of exciting future improvements to the Campus. We truly are at a pivotal moment in the Center’s history and about to embark on a course of action to make the Alliant Energy Center better than ever and serve a greater number of local and out of town guests.

The Market Opportunities report is an update of a report originally completed in 2017 to understand how the market has changed since then and in light of the pandemic in particular. Among other key findings, the consultants determined that the market for conferences and conventions locally and nationally has nearly fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels and is expected to exceed those levels in the next year or so. More and more travelers are mixing business and leisure and are looking for locations like Madison and Dane County that are attractive for both.

Unlike the majority of similar venues across the country, the Center had positive net operating incomes from 2015-2019, but has experienced annual losses since the pandemic. The study found that while losses are expected to decrease as the Center regains events, it’s unlikely we’ll achieve positive operating incomes again without substantial facility improvements/expansions. The report then identifies a number of suggested improvements to facilities across the Campus to take advantage of the wide range of market opportunities including conventions and conferences, agricultural shows, sporting events, family and consumer shows, and concerts as well as upgrades to landscaping, stormwater management, parking, and circulation to help make the Campus a better neighbor to surrounding residents and better integrate it into its surroundings.

Based on those findings, and after careful deliberations, the Committee met on April 15th and made a series of recommendations to the County Board and County Executive for future Campus improvements. Chief among these is a significant expansion of the Exposition Hall to include a large ballroom, additional meeting rooms, additional exposition space, and a new central kitchen serving the entire Campus. This is consistent with the findings of the 2018 Campus Master Plan. Work on more detailed expansion plans was completed in early 2020; so we already have a great head start on pursuing this, and we are shooting for beginning construction sometime in the next three to five years. 

The Exposition Hall expansion is critically needed to maintain the future financial viability of the Alliant Energy Center. It will result in a positive return on investment in the forms of significantly increased annual operating revenues, as well as attracting several thousand more visitors and their accompanying spending at local hotels, restaurants, and for other goods and services.

Ellie Westman Chin, Destination Madison President and CEO, echoed the importance of this expansion in stating, “As Destination Madison continues to pursue conferences and sporting events to be hosted at the AEC, one of the chief concerns we receive is that the Expo Hall is too small to host many groups.  In addition, some of the annual groups we presently host at the AEC need more capacity. Expanding the Expo Hall is integral to the future success of the AEC.”

The Exposition Hall expansion will be an ambitious project that – together with related site improvements in parking, circulation, and stormwater management – is estimated to cost approximately $175 million by 2027. The Committee will be working hard over the next two years to identify and obtain as much outside funding as possible, but as a County-owned facility, the lion’s share of the cost will likely rely on capital borrowing. However, the most important aspect of the expansion is that it also will permit a much wider range of events appealing to Dane County and south Wisconsin residents in the forms of consumer shows, entertainment, gatherings (like wedding receptions, family reunions, and business meetings) and sports, as well as creating additional jobs at a variety of skill levels. As a result, the entire community will benefit greatly from this investment.

Retired Dane County Conservationist Kevin Conners and retired Dane County Supervisor Dave Ripp have been appointed as the Alliant Energy Center Co-Interim Executive Directors as our former director left in February to run the Ohio State Fair. Both Kevin and Dave come from extensive agricultural and rural backgrounds. Kevin literally grew up on the Alliant Energy Center Campus through participation in 4-H and the Dane County Fair. He also previously served as Interim Director in 2022. A formal search process to find a permanent replacement is underway and should be completed later this summer. Until then, we are grateful the Center is in such capable hands.

The rest of 2024 looks to be equally exciting and busy for the Committee as we begin implementing our plans. We have an exceptional group of members made up of dedicated public and private representatives (including two profiled in this newsletter) who are committed to creating a first-class destination and event venue for residents and visitors alike. Look for future newsletter updates later this summer, and please visit the project website at https://aecstudy.countyofdane.com for continual updates on all of our activities. Further, the public is welcomed and encouraged to attend all of our Committee meetings with the next being on June 24th from 11:30 am-1:00 pm at the Center and on-line. Check the website for meeting details.

 

Sincerely, 
Chuck Erickson 
Dane County District 23 Supervisor
Chair, Alliant Energy Center Redevelopment Committee

This website contains documents and information that have been developed over the past ten years regarding the planning and future options for the Alliant Energy Center. Building from these past efforts, the County Board created the Alliant Energy Center Redevelopment Committee in 2018 to guide funding and governance for improvements to the campus grounds and facilities. 

If you have questions or you are interested in learning more about the AEC Master Plan Master Plan implementation process, please check back to this website for updates and contact us by sending your comments to our Dane County offices.