Photos by Lloyd Brown, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71
UW Milwaukee Panther Arena 400 W Kilbourn Ave Milwaukee, WI 53203
Year Opened: 1950
Old Milwaukee Gets Better With Age
The UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena is the oldest sports arena still in use in the Milwaukee area. Built in 1950, it has gone through several name changes over the years, including the Milwaukee Arena, the MECCA, the Wisconsin Center Arena, and US Cellular Arena.
Past tenants have included the Milwaukee Hawks, the Milwaukee Bucks, and Marquette University basketball. Today it serves the UW – Milwaukee Panthers basketball program, the Milwaukee Admirals AHL hockey team, the Milwaukee Wave of the MASL, and the Brew City Bruisers women’s roller derby team.
There have been numerous renovations done to the arena throughout its nearly 70-year existence. More than $6 million in upgrades have brought the arena up to modern standards. These repairs were paid for by the Milwaukee Admirals and the Wisconsin Center District, the owner of the building. Among the upgrades are the replacement of all 10,783 seats in the arena, the renovation of all bathroom and locker room facilities, the installation of LED lighting, and the expansion of concession areas. A new shared team store was added to service the spirit gear needs of the fans of the Panthers, Admirals, Wave, and Bruisers.
Food & Beverage 3
The Panther Arena has 13 concession stands spread equally throughout the building. They include Palermo’s Pizza, Southwestern Grille, Loaded Dogs, the Milwaukee Sausage Company, Victory Grill, and Cedar Crest Ice Cream.
Prices at the stands are standard for stadium fare. A review of the prices for the most popular items includes sausages ($7), beef hot dogs ($4.75), nachos ($5.50), pizza ($6.50), popcorn ($5), and candy ($4). The arena carries RC Cola brand beverages including sodas ($4.50), bottled water ($4), tea ($4), domestic beers ($7), and imported beers ($8)
Even though the Panther Arena has been heavily renovated, the first thing you will notice is the aura of history present in the building. Except for the signage out front, the building’s exterior looks just as it did in 1950. Inside, numerous displays and plaques are recalling the Milwaukee Bucks NBA Championship in 1971, the NCAA Championship season of 1977 achieved by Al McGuire and the Marquette basketball team, and the many concerts that took place in this facility. In addition, the entry lobby has brought back the original terrazzo floors and ticket booths of the 1950s.
Once you reach the seating bowl, there is no doubt you are in the modern-day home of the UW Panthers. The seats are in the black/gold color scheme of the school’s athletic teams. A massive Panther video board hangs over the mid-court area and a very contemporary Panther logo appears on the court.
Milwaukee has a very vibrant downtown area with many great restaurants, bars, and attractions within walking distance of the Panther Arena. The arena is located adjacent to both the UW – Milwaukee and Marquette University campuses, guaranteeing the nightlife will just be getting started as the game ends. On the restaurant front, Milwaukee is a melting pot of great ethnic restaurants, many of which are located along the riverfront on both Water Street and in the Old World Third Street section. Two restaurants to check out are the Milwaukee Brat House and Mikey’s Burgers and Bombs.
When you think of Milwaukee two things come to mind… beer and Harleys. A great way to spend your pregame time on weekends is to check out the nearby Harley Davidson Museum and go on the Miller Brewery Tour. Both attractions are located just west of the Panther Arena.
You can save a great deal on parking by staying in one of the many hotels within walking distance of the arena. The closest is the Hyatt Regency around the corner from the Panther Arena, but for a more uniquely Milwaukee experience stay at the Brewhouse Inn and Suites. It is a former brewery converted into a great boutique hotel. The lobby even still has the distilling tanks as a furnishing in the lobby.
When scheduling a trip to Milwaukee, check out the sports calendar to see if you can score either a double or triple hitter of games in a weekend. In addition to the Panthers and the Admirals, you may also have Marquette University or the Milwaukee Bucks playing at the new Sports and Entertainment Center across the street.
Panther fans are very basketball-centric as the school does not have a football program. Alumni remember the glory days of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leading the Bucks to their only NBA Championship and Al McGuire leading Marquette to the NCAA Championship over UNC. Younger fans are aware of the more recent successes of the University of Wisconsin / Madison reaching the NCAA finals and UW – Milwaukee reaching the Sweet Sixteen.
The Panther basketball program has had great success over the years. They are often found at the top of the Horizon League rankings and have won four league championships, along with four trips to the NCAA tournament.
The fans at UW – Milwaukee Panther Arena are led in their cheers by Pounce, the Panthers mascot. Assisting Pounce are the Panthers Cheer and Stunt Team and the Panther Pep Band. The student section is known as the Panther Pit and they stand throughout the game while disrupting the competition as much as possible through some very witty, but clean cheers.
The Panther Arena has more than 10,000 parking spaces available within a six-block radius around the facility. It is very easy to access from I-43 via exit 72-C, then stay straight on Kilbourn Avenue. Please be aware that there may be some street closures in the immediate area of the arena in conjunction with the construction of the Bucks new arena. Better yet, stay at one of the many hotels located within a few blocks of the arena and walk to the game.
Once inside the Panther Arena, there is some evidence of the facility’s age as far as access. The concourse areas tend to be narrow and can get very congested when the concession stands are busy. There are also some ramps leading to the various seating levels that are unique to a separate era.
Return on Investment 3
Ticket prices for Panther games range from $12 for a loge level seat up to $55 for a seat at court level. In most cases you should be able to obtain these tickets at standard pricing, avoiding the pricier secondary markets. Parking runs between $10 – $20 depending on which lot you use. Concessions are very reasonably priced.
The Wisconsin Athletic Walk of Fame is located just outside of the UW Panthers Arena. In 1977 the facility hosted the NBA All-Star Game. Elite players who appeared in that game included Julius Erving, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pete Maravich, and John Havlicek.
Among the entertainers who have appeared at the arena over the years are Prince, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, the Doors, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, and Bob Dylan. Ironically, the facility built to replace the UW – Milwaukee Panthers Arena in 1988 will face the wrecking ball first. The BMO Bradley Center is being torn down and replaced by the Wisconsin Sports and Entertainment Center.
In an era of disposable stadiums and frequent tear-downs, the UW – Milwaukee Panthers Arena is a great example of successful historical preservation. It is not only surviving but thriving, as it is in use nearly every day of the week by a different sports franchise.