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  • Eric Hasman

UW Milwaukee Panther Arena – Milwaukee Admirals

Photos by Eric Hasman and Meg Minard, Stadium JouMrney

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00

UW Milwaukee Panther Arena 400 W Kilbourn Ave Milwaukee, WI 53203

Year Opened: 1950 Capacity: 9,652


The Road to Nashville Goes Through Milwaukee

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.

Numerous renovations have been done to the arena throughout its 70+ years in 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 is 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.

Milwaukee Admirals Ice hockey has been played in Milwaukee, WI since 1970, with a one-year stint as the Milwaukee Wings in 1972-1973. They have played in the AHL (American Hockey League) since 2001 and have been affiliated with the Nashville Predators that entire time (plus three years in the IHL).

They played in the BMO Harris Bradley Center until the end of the 2015-2016 season and relocated a block away to the UW Milwaukee Panther Arena beginning the 2016-2017 season. In March 2016, the Admirals signed a 10-year agreement to play at UW Milwaukee Panther Arena. As part of that agreement, many significant renovations were done in the arena.

It’s a comfortable facility in which to watch a hockey game and one well worth checking out.

Food & Beverage 4

UW Milwaukee Panther Arena provides a good selection of refreshments, food, and drinks at fairly reasonable prices. The arena has 13 concession stands spread equally throughout the building. They include Ian’s Pizza, Mil-Town Taco, the Let Me 10-yearBe Frank, Mac & Cheese, and Colossal Pretzel.

A review of the prices for the most popular items includes beer braised bratwurst ($9), beef hot dogs ($8), pizza ($7), regular pretzel / colossal pretzel ($6 or $9), popcorn ($6 or $7.50), and assorted candy ($4.50). Soft drinks consist of RC Cola and Dr Pepper products ($5 / $6.50), Gatorade ($6), and bottled water $(4.50).

Saz’s (Milwaukee-based restaurant and food service provider) serves BBQ pulled pork or beef brisket sandwiches, turkey breast wrap, cheese curds, mozzarella sticks, and sour cream and chives fries ($5 – $13). The Mac & Cheese supplies classic and gourmet mac & cheese ($8 – $12).

Mil-Town Taco offers up Street Taco Sampler-3 Carne Asada or Adobo Chicken tacos ($9) and Extreme Nachos ($11).

One of my favorite stands is the Roasted Nuts (almond, pecan, cashew, or a combination) for $5.50 - $8.50 depending on the size.)

Craft beer (Blue Moon and Smith and Forge Cider) is available at most stands ($8); domestic beer (Miller Lite, Miller High Life, and Coors Light) is also available at most stands ($8-$9). Arty’s provides some cocktails and the South Goal Tap Room located behind the stands on the south side of the building features a full-service bar area.

If you’re from out of town, I’d recommend going local and splurging on the specialty brat from Usinger’s and a brew from one of the two Leinenkugel Lodges on the concourse.

Atmosphere 4

Except for the signage out front, the building’s exterior looks just as it did in 1950.

The ticket lobby is thankfully indoors and out of the weather elements which can be cold and blustery during hockey season. As part of the renovation, the original box office lobby terrazzo floor was restored giving it historic charm.

Indoor Ticket Booth at Panther Arena, Photo by Eric Hasman, Stadium Journey

Inside even with all the renovations of the Panther Arena, the concourses and ramps feel like an old high school building. Numerous displays and plaques recall 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.

All seats are cushioned throughout all levels of the seating area. Premium seats are ice level at the north end of the rink and include a buffet and two drinks. Ice Box seats are between the player benches ($750 – $1000). As it is an older facility, handrails are not available going up and down the upper-level rows so one must use the backs of seats for support, if needed.

The bathrooms are nice and spacious, clean, fresh, and bright.

Many banners are hanging from the rafters. The banners are retired numbers and Championships from the Milwaukee Admirals, Milwaukee Wave and UW-Milwaukee Panthers.

Neighborhood 5

UW Milwaukee Panther Arena is in the middle of downtown Milwaukee and has all the intriguing entertainment and activities that the city has to offer. If you schedule it right, you can do a double or triple hitter of games (Brew City Bruisers (roller derby), Panthers, Admirals, Marquette University,y or the Milwaukee Bucks) in a day or weekend.

Milwaukee has a very vibrant downtown area with many great restaurants, bars, and attractions within walking distance of 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. Some restaurants to check out are the King and I (Thai), Major Goolsby’s, Maders (German), The Old German Beer Hall, Sam Giorgio Pizzeria, Milwaukee Brat House, George Webb, and Mikey’s Burgers and Bombs. They are all reasonably priced and within a few blocks of the arena.

When you think of Milwaukee, a few things come to mind… cheese, beer, and Harleys. A great way to spend your pregame time on weekends is to check out the nearby Wisconsin Cheese Mart, and the Harley Davidson Museum and go on the Miller Brewery Tour. The attractions are located just west of the Panther Arena.

A few hotels are within a few blocks of the arena which have parking included. So you can save a few bucks on parking by walking from the hotel to 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 furnishing in the lobby.

Historical markers line the streets around the downtown neighborhood and are worth checking out if weather permits.

Fans 3

Admiral fans have not given up on the team with the move to the UW Panther Arena with an average attendance of 4,500 per game (not including the playoffs). However, on days of popular giveaways or concerts, attendance will be a lot more. That said, the Admiral’s fan base is good. Just like any other minor league team, there are a lot of kids at a game. However, many adults go too.

The fans are into the game. They show dissatisfaction with the referees when calls don’t go the Admiral's way. They have hockey etiquette and seem to stay in their seats while the puck is in play and during game action.

Access 3

Getting to and moving in and around the UW Milwaukee Panther Arena for an Admirals game is quite easy. The concourses can get crowded between periods and expect long lines at the restrooms.

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. Better yet, stay at one of the many hotels located within a few blocks of the arena and walk to the game.

Once inside 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.

The closest airport is General Mitchell International Airport (about 10 miles from the arena). Depending on schedule and price some fans may choose to fly into Chicago O’Hare Airport and drive the 80 miles north. Milwaukee County Transit Service has an extensive bus schedule with several routes (80, 49) stopping near the arena. Uber and Lyft are prevalent in downtown Milwaukee as well.

Return on Investment 4

Single ticket prices range from $15 – $36.50. Add $2 on the day of the game purchase. The team offers Flex Plan Vouchers which can be used in any increment to any game throughout the season. Parking runs between $10 – $25 depending on which lot you use. However, if you get to the area early enough you may be able to find free street parking.

The Admirals host various concert nights so for the price of a ticket, a fan can be entertained by a concert after the match.

Extras 5

With three minutes to go between the second and third period break the Admirals have the best “3” celebration, ok, the only one, that I have seen. This is not to be missed. The 3 celebration is game day operations turn off the house lights and flash a "3" on the scoreboard and play music. The fans take out their cell phones, turn on the flashlight and wave them around. It is stupid fun.

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.

The Admirals do a great job with the giveaways and promotions. Various promotional games are available for kids under 14, seniors (60+), first responders, and students. Wendy’s, the Brewers, Harley Davidson, and other sponsors all provide discounts in some form or fashion. Check their website for additional information on promotions for the current or future seasons.

Inside, a banner lists all the Admiral players who have made it to the NHL. A wide variety of merchandise choices are available at the team store including pennants and hat pins.

Final Thoughts

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. Even though the arena is not the most luxurious, it is a good place to see a game and is worth the trip.

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