Integrated Marketing Approach: Balloon Festival

September 2014

Exhilarating Multi-Functional Facility Concept Salutes Milwaukee’s Industrial Heritage, Celebrates Contemporary Enterprise and Appeals to Tourism

Brookfield, Wis. – Steam Marketing Group (SMG) is proposing a new development for the Menomonee River Valley, on a site located in downtown Milwaukee.  The proposed facility will incorporate industrial, hotel, and banquet/meeting space as well as a museum, all built around a beloved community landmark in the form of a retired steam locomotive that became almost legendary through its display in a Milwaukee park during the 1960s and ‘70s. The venerated, steam locomotive called ‘Old Smokey’ recalled Milwaukee’s industrial past and was a popular local attraction.

“SMG is focusing efforts on moving forward with a concept for property development to create an exciting complex on a derelict industrial site in the Milwaukee area,” explains SMG Milwaukee Roundhouse Project Lead Nancy Ring.  The facility will include a railroad-related museum component and a display/multipurpose area that would draw inspiration from Milwaukee’s great railroad structures of a century ago.  Moreover, discussions are underway to include a model railroad display with components and scope to rival the world’s most impressive model railroads.

SMG, an experiential marketing firm, was hatched to develop a vision of combining nostalgia for an important era of the nation’s industrial development with the ever-present demand for fresh ideas to market products, places or promotional initiatives, states Bill Moran, president of the firm.   “The desire for unique and genuine experiences in today’s world has fostered a drive to present through creative marketing strategies an array of compelling and interesting possibilities,” he observes.

Experiential Marketing (as a marketing niche) became strong in the “00s” and its aim is to make the customer relate, feel, engage, reflect with a product, brand or company.  Daydreams of nostalgia and reminders of pleasant times while growing up form a memorable and emotional connection between the consumer and the brand so that it may generate customer loyalty and influence future purchasing decisions.

At this intersection of branding and industry – specifically the steam power that helped usher in the industrial revolution and which was characterized by the mammoth locomotives that served a developing nation – is a business model that not only honors this distinguished past, but serves as a platform to incorporate the interactive nature of these integrated marketing approaches.

“There’s something to be said about a chance to look directly upon a powerful machine of this intricacy, massiveness and mystery for evoking a sense of reverence and wonderment,” Moran reflects.  “The ability to share this experience, this sense of awe, and fold it into a business model that is viable is what’s behind his marketing-focused enterprise’s concept to develop the multi-functional facility.

Devising a Distinct Concept for an Exhilarating Space

“Enabling people to enjoy a place or mood that is out-of-the-ordinary, while instilling new knowledge or an enhanced perspective, is a worthwhile goal,” he continues. “And it is one that I believe can be achieved through a concept that combines function and imagination which is built on a in support of an exciting business strategy.”  As such, Moran, through his platform of SMG, is proposing forging a partnership among interested parties, whether civic-minded individuals or organizations, forward-thinking property developers, or enthusiastic entrepreneurs and tourism interests, to construct a unique, varied-function “destination” facility that would present multiple aspects, as described below.

Industrial Space

Building on Milwaukee’s historic reputation as ‘machine capital of the world’ and the site’s proximity to an established rail infrastructure, discussions with potential occupants involved in heavy industry have found the efficiencies in the proposed design of the facility intriguing.

Hotel Space--built on a different paradigm

Imagine walking into the lobby of a modern hotel and encountering a gleaming, lovingly restored, operational, 234-ton steam locomotive.  Lodging options outlined in the concept include both conventional hotel rooms, as well as lavishly appointed Pullman Sleeping Cars restored to express the luxury they presented at the height of rail travel.  “The mystique of the machinery,” Ring suggests, would capture the attention of youngsters and older people alike.  “The locomotive would hold appeal for folks curious about the era when passenger and freight train service relied on steam engines.”

One hotel chain was intrigued with the facility’s proximity to Milwaukee’s museum district and gaming establishments, as well as by the idea of offering visitors a peek into a modern-day industrial operation. 

Meeting Space

A meeting/banquet area will afford rental space for special events, in response to a noted trend of wedding receptions and other gatherings being held in unconventional, often off-beat, settings.  For special occasions, the steam locomotive and ancillary railcars can be moved, utilizing a turntable, from the hotel lobby into the banquet area, a space that SMG sees as accommodating 600 people to increase meeting space in that area of the city.


Finally, the concept outlines space for a museum that would honor railway history – specifically pertaining to the Milwaukee Road, a railroad that was founded in and operated from the city for which it was named.  Central to the museum would be exhibit space devoted to the memory of workers who built or worked on the line.  In developing a display honoring them, Ring would like to see an invitation extended to the community to contribute mementos, as well as memories in the form of oral histories.

Events and Excursions

The roundhouse-reminiscent facility could also serve as a launching point for day excursions on a train pulled by the steam engine for specially promoted trips.  The opportunity for a restaurateur to provide gourmet dining experiences aboard a restored dining car replete with crisp table linens and elegant silver service of the kind associated with luxury train travel would create an opportunity to establish bragging rights.

The concept, Moran acknowledges, “covers a lot of ground,” but he believes that the strong theme envisioned has the ability to drive an effort that will not only generate substantial interest within the immediate Milwaukee community, but would have a geographically broader appeal. “This facility,” he predicts, “will tie together the City of Milwaukee’s proud industrial past and its promising future.”

The Vision Evolves: Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) Offers Alternatives

To help give shape to this unusual facility concept, with its myriad functional requirements and the objective to pay homage to the area’s industrial heritage while serving as a platform for future entrepreneurial efforts, Ring, working with noted area architect John “Jack” Funck, AIA, who served as senior project architect for Milwaukee’s Miller Park, turned to the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE).  SMG had been introduced to the school’s Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management (CAECM) Department by a staff member of Consolidated Construction Corporation, Appleton, Wis.

Each year the CAECM Department organizes a senior design project competition to give students an opportunity to work in a team fashion to create a viable design for a facility concept that reinforces lessons students have received in their respective disciplines.  “MSOE typically looks for multistory projects in the formative development stage that challenge our students structurally, mechanically (HVAC, sprinkler, plumbing and electrical) and as construction managers,” explains Associate Professor Robert Lemke, AIA, LEED AP, in describing the senior project program.

Utilizing a “design-build” project delivery approach, the educational institution’s CAECM Senior Project course aims to address and solve real-life client problems.  MSOE student teams produce for clients detailed architectural models, as well as construction cost estimates for three different design approaches/solutions to reflect concept goals and specifications. The award-winning architectural engineering and construction management programs with which the course is associated feature a multi-disciplined curriculum expressing specific engineering specialties.

The SMG idea was assigned to multiple project teams to flesh out an architectural/engineering design that would reflect the spaces identified for the facility envisioned; work to realize concept drawings began in earnest late in MSOE’s Fall 2013 semester.  Delineation of specialized spaces was accomplished to reflect the design “program” defined for the building, as were potential “siting” options in exercises to explore structure placement on a former industrial parcel.

“The idea of constructing such a building on a disused piece of land in a diminished industrial neighborhood,” explains Funck, “reflects the hope that a modern, multi-functional facility could help in advancing a revitalization initiative.” Doing so, he maintains, would serve to both honor the community’s industrial heritage and help to set the stage for future business development in the Menomonee Valley.    

Moving forward: Imagination and Collaboration

With this concept in mind, SMG is currently in discussions with potential business partners who are intrigued with the idea of aligning their brands with the admiration that the steam train and its era engender. “This idea,” Moran says, “has the potential to become a very powerful  marketing tool like no other.” SMG’s Ring believes the facility envisioned would resonate with many. “Such a diverse and extraordinary complex,” she concludes, “would be unique in Milwaukee, a city that annually draws a huge number of visitors.”

A unifying aspect among these spaces is the idea of offering people opportunities to get a close-up glimpse into industrial endeavor, both historic and contemporary.  Seeing a refurbished, full-size locomotive, and accompanying train, for example, could be a point of fascination for visitors, suggests Ring. “The mystique of the machinery,” she believes, would capture the attention of youngsters and older people alike.  “The locomotive would hold appeal for folks curious about life in Milwaukee more than a century ago, as well as others who are nostalgic about the era when passenger and freight train service relied on steam engines.”