President & CEO | Pabst Theater Group
Preserving history sometimes means making history, as Pabst Theater Group in Milwaukee continues to add to its portfolio of historic theater venues and bolster its entertainment offerings, which include top-notch hospitality and dining options.
Chicago native Gary Witt entered the Wisconsin market in 2002, taking over operations at Milwaukee’s historic Pabst Theater. He says the company, which began with just him and co-owner and COO Matt Beringer, has worked hard to help develop the city into a viable music market for club and theater tours.
“It is about control to us,” Witt said of the company’s portfolio. “Because we invest tremendously in our buildings, we invest in the audience and artist experience, and that creates a separate experience that gives a soul and identity to the building.”
Along with the Pabst (1,339 capacity), PTG’s portfolio has grown to include The Miller High Life Theatre (4,000 cap.), The Riverside Theater (2,450 cap.), Turner Hall Ballroom (1,000 cap.), The Back Room at Colectivo (300 cap.) and The Fitzgerald (a wedding/private events venue), while its PTG Live promotion arm promotes shows around the city in multiple other venues including Fiserv Forum.
The company books, markets and hosts more than 800 live performances per year in and around the city of Milwaukee.
Witt says the company entered the market at a good time, with Milwaukee on the brink of growth and the electronic communications boom beginning to explode and change the way marketing and promotion was done.
“We came in at a point of time that was a positive for us, communication was changing and how businesses spoke to their customers and people spoke to one another,” says Witt. “I remember building our first e-members email list. When we got up to 500 people in our email database, we were so excited about it.”
Pabst Theater Group, which employs 350 people and boasts what it calls one of the best backstage dining experiences for artists in America, contributes over a quarter of a billion dollars to Milwaukee’s economy annually while also helping to define the city’s soul and identity, Witt says.
“Our goal all along was to be able to grow something and build and develop a community and rely on that community to help us grow the business,” he said. — Ryan Borba