Milwaukee Exposition and Convention Center and Arena (MECCA)

Click the image to learn more. The MECCA, pictured here in the foreground, opened in 1974 and served as Milwaukee's main convention center until it was replaced in 1998. The arena to the right of the convention center is still in use and currently known as the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.

The Milwaukee Exposition and Convention Center and Arena (MECCA) stood in Milwaukee’s Civic Center district on West Kilbourn Avenue for 24 years. It opened in 1974 adjoining the Auditorium/Arena complex and was replaced with the larger, more modern Midwest Express Center (now the Wisconsin Center) in 1998.[1]

The efforts to construct the convention center began in April 1967 with the publication of a report by a committee headed by Robert E. Dineen, Board Chairman of Northwestern Mutual Life. The report called for the construction of a large, modern exhibition hall built near the existing Arena on West Kilbourn Avenue The design for the facility, by the Chicago firm of Welton Becket & Associates, planned a two-level structure built on the two blocks between Wells, Kilbourn, Fourth, and Sixth Streets. The main floor exhibition space covered 132,000 square feet, including a Great Hall of 66,000 square feet.[2] The second floor consisted of additional conference space and meeting rooms with a cantilevered roof.[3] A skywalk system connected the building with the Auditorium/Arena; another skywalk was added in 1983 to the Hyatt Hotel to the east.[4]

Groundbreaking for the building was held on December 8, 1971. The grand opening of the completed structure was held on May 23, 1974[5] and included almost 250 ethnic dancers performing during four days of celebration.[6] Annual events such as the Sentinel Sports Show, the Holiday Folk Fair International, and the Auto Show helped to keep MECCA an important downtown destination.[7]

Footnotes [+]

  1. ^MECCA Convention Center,” Old, last accessed March 9, 2016; Joseph J. Korom, Jr., Look Up, Milwaukee: Eastside/westside, All around Downtown: A Descriptive and Pictorial Display of Selected Architectural Scenery (Milwaukee: Franklin Publishers, 1979), 108.
  2. ^ Korom, Look Up, Milwaukee, 108.
  3. ^ Ladley K. Pearson, “New Center Rites City Milestone,” The Milwaukee Sentinel, December 9, 1971, accessed June 30, 2015,,2333429&hl=en
  4. ^ “Balmy Route through Downtown,” The Milwaukee Journal, April 9, 1983, accessed July 2, 2015,,5280415&hl=en.
  5. ^ Daniel P. Hanley Jr., “Hall in Red by $266,047,” The Milwaukee Journal, February 17, 1975, accessed June 30, 2015,,3854082&hl=en.
  6. ^ “MECCA to Open on Dancing Feet,” The Milwaukee Sentinel, May 24, 1974, accessed July 2, 2015,,2175346&hl=en.

For Further Reading

“All Roads Lead to MECCA” Special Section, Milwaukee Sentinel, May 23, 1974.

“Convention Center Opens with Bands, Beer, Boasts,” Milwaukee Sentinel, May 24, 1974.

Dorr, James R., and H. Russell Zimmermann. Downtown Building Survey, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. [Milwaukee, Wis.]: [Milwaukee Redevelopment Corp.], 1977.

Korom, Joseph J. Milwaukee Architecture: A Guide to Notable Buildings. Madison, WI: Prairie Oak Press, 1995.

Wright, Sandra J. The Development of MECCA, Milwaukee Exposition & Convention Center & Arena. Milwaukee: n.p., 1972.


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