Milwaukee Lands High-Level Soccer Franchise for Iron District Stadium

The pro club with its home pitch in the future Westown development will be in the USL Championship, a tier below Major League Soccer.

Big-time professional soccer is coming to Milwaukee.

The city will become home to the newest expansion franchise in the USL Championship, the second-highest tier of professional soccer in the United States.  

The agreement is a major boost for Iron District MKE, the sports and entertainment district planned for a long-neglected parcel near the Marquette University campus. Plans for the property were unveiled earlier this year by Kacmarcik Enterprises and Bear Development, which earlier purchased the 11-acre property at the northeast corner of the Marquette Interchange from the university for the development. 

Officials from Kacmarcik Enterprises, Milwaukee Pro Soccer and the United Soccer League made the announcement at a public event on Wednesday. 

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. The league’s 32-week season begins in March.

“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,” Kacmarcik Enterprises Chairman and CEO Jim Kacmarcik said. Kacmarcik Enterprises owns the rights to the USL Championship franchise.


 

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 “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,” he said. 

The Milwaukee club extends Kacmarcik’s commitment to soccer in Wisconsin, which also includes him serving as lead owner of Forward Madison FC, a USL League One club a tier below the USL Championship. 

“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,” USL Chief Operating Officer and Chief Real Estate Officer Justin Papadakis said. “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.” 

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 a mix of large and mid-sized markets including Miami, San Diego, Las Vegas and Charleston, South Carolina; Memphis, Tennessee; and Tulsa, Oklahoma. The league formed in 2011 through the merger of two professional leagues.  

The Championship is the pinnacle of the USL’s network, which includes three professional leagues, two pre-professional leagues, a developmental academy system and a nationally competitive youth network. The organization consists of more than 200 teams, from youth to professional, across the country.  

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. 

The new outdoor team will join the Major Arena Soccer Leagues Milwaukee Wave, owned by Roc Ventures, as the only professional soccer teams in the market. Founded in 1984, the Wave are the longest continuously operating professional soccer team in the United States and have captured seven championships. The franchise plays at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, which has a capacity of 9,500 for soccer.

“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,” Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said.  

Milwaukee Pro Soccer is launching a “Name the Team Campaign” that will determine the club’s name and set the course for decisions regarding 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 the Golden Eagles men’s and women’s lacrosse teams, in addition to a variety of youth and community programming. 

The developer expects the field, which will feature a synthetic turf surface, to be used from March through November, hosting about 200 events annually, including nonsports community events. 

“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,” Marquette President Michael Lovell said. “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.” 

Construction will begin this fall, starting with the demolition of the old Ramada Inn along West Michigan Street. Other site preparation and construction activities will soon follow. 

“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,” Bear Development CEO S.R. Mills said. 

In addition to the soccer stadium, the project will include a 3,500-capacity indoor concert venue operated by the Pabst Theater Group, a 140-unit residential development, boutique hotel and dining, nightlife and retail operations. 

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Rich Rovito is a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine.