Milwaukee Pro Soccer; USL Championship franchise announced

Officials from Kacmarcik Enterprises, Milwaukee Pro Soccer and the United Soccer League announced Milwaukee will be home to the newest expansion franchise in the USL Championship – the second-highest tier of professional soccer in the United States.

The agreement marks a step forward to bring professional soccer to Milwaukee and for Iron District MKE – the sports and entertainment district announced earlier this year by Kacmarcik Enterprises and Bear Development, the project’s master developer. 

Iron District MKE will include a new 8,000-seat stadium that will serve as the home stadium for the USL Championship franchise starting in 2025.

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"This is an announcement we’ve been working towards behind the scenes for years, and I’m thrilled to bring high-level professional soccer to the city of Milwaukee," said Jim Kacmarcik, chairman and CEO of Kacmarcik Enterprises, which owns the rights to the USL Championship franchise. "Major cities have professional soccer clubs, and we’re proud to deliver that to Milwaukee – a premier sports city with a rich soccer culture that runs deep throughout our community. This club, and the entire Iron District MKE project, share an ambitious vision of making a positive impact on the city of Milwaukee, and we can’t wait to get started."

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Milwaukee Pro Soccer Iron District MKE stadium rendering (Courtesy: Kacmarcik Enterprises)

According to a news release, the Milwaukee club extends Kacmarcik’s commitment to the Wisconsin soccer community, including his investment in Forward Madison FC, a USL League One club.

"We are thrilled to welcome Milwaukee to the USL Championship and look forward to seeing the city’s vibrant soccer community fill their new stadium week in and week out," said USL COO and Chief Real Estate Officer Justin Papadakis. "The Iron District MKE project is truly unique and transformative for the city, and we are proud that the USL will be a part of it. Based on what we’ve seen in Madison, we know that Jim Kacmarcik and Milwaukee Pro Soccer will ensure the new club is a top-tier soccer organization, providing best-in-class facilities for its players, a world-class soccer experience for its fans, and a commitment to having a positive community impact."

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The USL Championship is sanctioned by the U.S. Soccer Federation as the nation’s Division II professional league. The league boasts 27 clubs in major metropolitan markets including Miami, San Diego, Las Vegas, New York, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Detroit and Indianapolis. The USL Championship is the pinnacle of the USL, which includes three professional leagues, two pre-professional leagues, a developmental academy system and a youth network. The organization consists of more than 200 teams, from youth to pro, across the U.S.

The announcement marks the establishment of the first professional outdoor soccer franchise in Milwaukee since 2002, when the Milwaukee Rampage dissolved. At the time, the Rampage played in the A-League, which represented the second-highest tier of professional soccer in the U.S. and was a precursor to the current USL Championship.

Milwaukee Pro Soccer, the news release said, will "build a club that provides an excellent fan experience and positively contributes to the culture and health of downtown Milwaukee."

"In discussions with the developers for Iron District MKE and representatives from Milwaukee Pro Soccer, it’s clear that this group’s progressive and ambitious plans can have a transformative impact on an area of our city that needs this kind of investment," Mayor Cavalier Johnson said. "We are proud to welcome the USL Championship to Milwaukee. I commend the entire Iron District MKE and Milwaukee Pro Soccer group on the inclusive, community-focused approach they are taking with this project."

To appropriately reflect the city of Milwaukee’s soccer culture and spirit, Milwaukee Pro Soccer said it has launched a "Name The Team Campaign" that will determine the club’s name and inform decisions around the team’s crest, colors and overall aesthetic.

In addition to the future Milwaukee Pro Soccer USL Championship franchise, Iron District MKE will serve as the home pitch for the Marquette University men’s and women’s soccer clubs and Marquette’s men’s and women’s lacrosse teams, in addition to a variety of youth and community programming.

"It was important to us to sell this land for the Iron District MKE to a strategic partner that would revitalize this high-profile corridor within Milwaukee’s Westown neighborhood," said Marquette University President Michael Lovell. "Together with Milwaukee Pro Soccer, the USL, Kacmarick Enterprises and Bear Development, we are accomplishing that. The legacy we are building will be transformational to Milwaukee and to Marquette, and it will create invaluable opportunities for the region as well as Marquette’s student-athletes and fans. We look forward to all that this USL Championship franchise will do for our community."

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Construction on Iron District MKE will begin later this fall, starting with the complete deconstruction of the old Ramada Inn near 6th and Michigan. Other site prep and construction activities will soon follow.

"With our agreement with USL Championship now in place, we are ready to begin construction," said S.R. Mills, chief executive officer of Bear Development. "Whether you’re traveling from the south or west of Milwaukee, we view Iron District MKE as a transformational gateway to the city that will serve as an asset to the Westown neighborhood and all of downtown."

The development, bordered by 6th Street to the east, 10th Street to the west and Michigan Street to the north, is centered around an 8,000-seat soccer-specific stadium, includes a 3,500-capacity indoor concert venue operated by the Pabst Theater Group, will have a 140-unit residential component, boutique hotel, in addition to dining, nightlife and retail operations.