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Wisconsin Avenue bridge celebration opens Milwaukee landmark with style

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On Saturday, the Wisconsin Avenue bridge party will celebrate the re-opening of downtown’s landmark bridge. Photo via bridgepartymke.com.

Wisconsin Avenue is hosting a party, and we’re all invited.

On Sept. 22, starting at noon, the newly reopened Wisconsin Avenue bridge will throw a block party-esque celebration that will include music, art, food and happy hours, as well as flotillas, yoga and tug-of-war.

The Wisconsin Avenue bridge was closed for nearly a year due to renovations and revitalizations meant to modernize and revamp the bridge, which is also the hope of the event. ART Milwaukee and NEWaukee are the party’s hosts and want to attract visitors to revive that area of downtown.

Walk down Wisconsin Avenue and you’ll find empty spaces and construction where restaurants and businesses could be blooming. The bridge party hopes to be part of the solution to these unused areas.

“There’s a lot of empty storefronts and empty retail space,” said Jeremy Fojut, an event organizer. “When we were trying to think of ways to rejuvenate Wisconsin Avenue and to bring people there, we came up with the idea of a block party sort of event that brings attention in a positive way and in a way that the community can get behind.”

The celebration will kick off at noon with Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett giving a speech at the revitalized bridge’s first official raising for boats to pass. His speech will also serve as a toast to promote the downtown area. The Milwaukee River will then see its first flotilla, or boat parade. Everyone who has a boat, motorized or not, is invited to sail under the bridge. The boats will be judged based on decoration and originality.

Some of the quirkier events include yoga, which will be taught right on the bridge with wellness classes courtesy of Gold’s Gym.

The bridge party also hopes to bring the city’s history to life through the fun games and events planned. For instance, in 1845, there was a conflict now known as the Milwaukee Bridge War in which residents of “Juneautown” (Milwaukee’s east side) and “Kilbourntown” (the west side) were in conflict over the bridge’s construction. In order to reenact that piece of Milwaukee history in an entertaining and interactive manner, current residents of the east and west side of Milwaukee will participate in a tug-of-war on the bridge.

There will also be live music of various genres playing on two separate stages. Artists such as Ethan Keller, Undercover Organism, I’m Not a Pilot, Kane Place Record Club and the Afro-Cuban jazz band De La Buena are set to perform on the Heineken Stage. The artists are all Milwaukee natives and well-known in the local music scene.

Kane Place Record Club, an “indie-pop soul” band, has recently played in events such as Do414.com’s One-Year Anniversary Party at Mad Planet and the Cream City Soundcheck celebration at Turner Hall.

“Honestly, we’re not exactly sure what to expect, but with the lineup and the people involved with the event, it’s sure going to be a great time,” said band member Nick Tovarek. “Plus, we’re thrilled that the Wisconsin Avenue bridge is back up and ready to party.”

Aside from bringing attention to downtown, the band believes that such events are great for Milwaukee’s music scene. “Anytime a unique event like this takes place, it draws such a diverse group of people, including many who haven’t been exposed to a lot of Milwaukee music. And the lineup is so great this year that I’m sure a lot of people are going to be returning home with some new favorite local bands.” Tovarek said

Art will also get its chance in the spotlight with the Inaugural Riverwalk Art Walk. Located near the north and south ends of the bridge, more than 50 artists will get a chance to interact with the crowd through live art and exhibitions ranging from painting to photography to sculpting.

The party will have a wide range of events, and although the music is aimed toward a younger audience, there’s something for everyone.

For Twitter addicts, tweeting video event footage to @FlipEleven or #BridgePartyMKE will enter patrons to win prizes from NEWaukee and ART Milwaukee.  

Fojut noted that younger professionals and job seekers will also have a chance to meet at an exclusive networking event in which food and drinks will be half off.

Wisconsin Avenue will be closed from Plankinton Avenue to Water Street, but there will be a water taxi providing transportation to and from the event, though public transportation is highly encouraged. Those who arrive by bus, bike or kayak will receive a free beverage.

The event has been in planning for three months and is expected to attract more than 5,000 people. Organizers hope to make it an annual celebration that residents from all over Milwaukee can look forward to.

The Wisconsin Avenue bridge celebration promises to be a fun event to not only commemorate the opening of the bridge but to celebrate Milwaukee’s local art, music, and restaurant scene. Attendees can come together to boost the local economy, enjoy a fun afternoon and take pride in all things Milwaukee.

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