My journey to learning so much great information about the NEW STATE began with a deep dive into the connection behind two of the board members: John Hennessy and Dima Pochtarev. John Hennessy is currently the developer and board president for the NEW STATE. He grew up in the Chicago area before heading to the University of Dayton where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering. After receiving his undergraduate degree, John furthered his education at Northwestern University, where he earned a Master of Science in Biomedical Engineering. After graduating from Northwestern University, John moved to Wisconsin where he started his career with General Electric, in which he held various engineering, marketing, and sales positions. Many years later, John left General Electric, and through his own investing, got started in Real Estate with his own company Hennessy Group Inc.
Dima Poctarev was raised in the city of Milwaukee following his family’s relocation from Moscow in 1994. From a very young age, Dima was inspired to work hard in whatever it was that he pursued in life due to his parents actions in providing him and his sister with a good life. Dima’s work ethic proved to be useful as he pursued a post-secondary education at the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE). While at MSOE, Dima pursued a degree in Architecture until he found his passion for music, production, and working with artists. Dima found himself in a bit of a bind since he was already on the hook with loans at MSOE, so he decided to continue pursuing his passion and changed his major to construction management because he felt that there would be courses that he could apply to his passion and career. While still in college, Dima started his own record label called Unified Records. After graduating, Dima started his career as a Heavy Highway Inspector in addition to his record label. Dima’s current role with the NEW STATE is the Treasurer.
John and Dima’s first encounter was about 10 years prior to the concept of the NEW STATE. They first came across one another in about 2008, when Dima was looking for studio space for his record label and he contacted John who was starting to work on the So-Hi building. Since Dima was in need for an immediate space, they both went their separate ways and focused on their respective careers. This relationship was rekindled in 2018 when John and a partner wanted to save the historic state Theater. Remembering that Dima was involved with music, John reached out to see if Dima had any ideas of how the building could be repurposed. From there, the idea of the NEW STATE was born as more people from the Milwaukee music and creative scene were brought on board and the City really liked the idea.
In its most basic form, the NEW STATE theater will be an all ages music hub with studio spaces, a theater, cafe, pocket music park, and retail space. The renovation will restore the theater to its historic roots. The theater started in the early 1900s as a silent movie theater, and later was transformed into a nightclub, The Palms, and even later a basketball-themed strip club called Hoops. After Hoops was shut down by the city, the building sat vacant for 20+ years, and in 2017 suffered a disastrous fire, which caused major damages to the property. In December of 2018, John and his partner got involved and were able to acquire the space prior to it being demolished. Because of the performance and arts background of the old theater, the concept of the NEW STATE was born.
The NEW STATE is the development name for the project. Additionally,there is a nonprofit that was created to work behind the development called West Side Arts Unlimited (WSAU). When speaking with Dima, he mentioned that, “WSAU will really be the soul of the NEW STATE theater and is the nonprofit that is behind the fundraising and program purposes.” WSAU will be the nonprofit that operates the NEW STATE theater and part of this will involve curriculum, workshops, mentoring programs, and education for youth and the community. WSAU will also work to fundraise so that they can offer free or low cost opportunities to work with and educate individuals interested in arts, music, and performance as a career.
The components of the NEW STATE were already mentioned above, but it is important to know that this is not a project that will be done all at once. In my conversation with John, he mentioned that the board realized that the vision for this project would be very costly, and to make it more feasible, they decided to break it into three phases. Phase one will consist of the building of the pocket music park, currently located at the corner of 26th and State. Phase two will be the redevelopment of the cafe building and facade improvement. Finally, phase three will be the restoration of the theater and building in the studio spaces, retail store, and housing for the nonprofit.
The board for the NEW STATE theater is very diverse as it includes an artist, developer, lawyer, architect, and other individuals who see the vision for the NEW STATE. During the conversation, Dima mentioned how important it was having a strong village working together to produce the vision discussed above. John also chimed in by stating that there are a lot of people who want this project done and are working hard to get it done. Even though there is a strong team working on the NEW STATE right now, there will naturally be more parties that play an important role in the physical creation of the vision.
This is a project that the team hopes to have running on all cylinders by the end of 2022, but some portions will be running a lot sooner. Phase one of the plan, as mentioned above, will begin construction in late Spring of 2021 and the group hopes to have it done by the end of the Summer. This will allow them to hold some programs there for the community and let more people know about the NEW STATE. They hope to have phase two completed by the end of 2021 or early 2022. After these two phases are completed, the group hopes to have enough funds raised to begin working on phase three in late Winter of 2022 and have this project completed by the end of the year. While all the construction is taking place, the team hopes that the WSAU will already be under way, as they have already begun working on curriculum and events for Spring 2021.
When talking about why the NEW STATE was important for the Near West Side community, John and Dima both noted how centrally located the Near West Side is to the rest of Milwaukee. With the location being so central to Milwaukee, they believe that this project can be an economic catalyst for the Near West Side as it will drive people from all communities of Milwaukee to the area. With all the other positive momentum going on in the Near West Side, John believes there are major benefits that come with having such strong presences along that 27th street corridor. Dima added that, “the NEW STATE will be the glue that ties everything together with all the opportunities for artistic expression that will come, and this is going to increase the impact to the community when it is done.” This impact will be felt by the community as it will provide a safe space for artistic expression and an amazing outlet for living, working, and playing in the Near West Side.
In speaking of this artistic expression for the community, we then spoke about the Black Lives Matter mural that the group has on the future cafe building. This mural was started with a teacher and group of students at the Highland Community School who felt strongly about the injustices happening in America. They wanted to do their part, so the group got together and came up with an idea to do a mural; however, they did not have a space for the art work. The teacher got in contact with individuals from the NEW STATE through a mutual friend who knew they had the space to potentially host the mural and that it matched the mission. There was then a fundraiser to get the supplies and the teacher and students organized days to work on the mural. Dima stated, “on the day of the mural painting, there was already a NEW STATE event schedule, and so community members got involved in the painting as well.” Overall, Dima says he thinks that there were a minimum of fifty community members that had a part in the actual mural and that it was something special.
Overall, my conversations with Dima and John uncovered a lot about the project that is the NEW STATE. When asked about how people can support, Dima and John gave a lot of great options. Among those options was a monetary donation through the NEW STATE website, regardless of the amount, it would all go a long way in helping them reach the financial goals they have for finishing this project. People could also support this project by spreading awareness about what is going on because this would allow the opportunity for new parties interested in bringing the vision to life to hop on board. They could also use volunteers, sponsors, and connections with individuals that may be able to help them long-term. Finally, people could support their fundraising efforts by purchasing merchandise off the website, donating during events, watching for Facebook fundraising efforts, and when the pandemic has passed, supporting a Gala in which they hope to have.
If you are interested in learning more about the NEW STATE or supporting their fundraising efforts, more information can be found on their website at https://www.newstatemke.org/.