A $3.5 million grant from the State of Wisconsin is helping kickstart upgrades at Port Milwaukee that aims to boost and accommodate cruise ship visits to Milwaukee.

The grant awarded by Gov. Tony Evers last week along with other grants, comes from the Tourism Capital Investment Grant Program, funded by the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The money is tabbed for travel-related infrastructure.

The site of the new dock. (PHOTOS: Collins Engineering)


The Port Milwaukee grant was among the largest given. The Milwaukee County Zoo is also receiving $3.5 million to upgrade the entrance and the penguin exhibit. Wisconsin Dells Visitor and Convention Bureau received the same amount, and Dane County’s The Alliant Energy Center got $3.2 million for upgrades.

The money will be used to construct new Seawaymax infrastructure at the South Shore Cruise Dock. This project was launched in the wake of Viking Cruises’ 2020 announcement that it would utilize Milwaukee for its turnaround service for large international cruise vessels.

According to the announcement release, the port does not have currency the necessary facilities to handle those big boats.

Port officials estimate that the city will welcome between 9,000 and 15,000 cruise ship passengers this year.

Viking plans to sail at least two vessels on the Great Lakes this year, including Octantis and Pearl Mist.


Viking’s Octantis. (PHOTO: Viking Cruises)

According to Port Milwaukee officials, the design work is complete and construction on the $6 million project will begin as soon as the necessary funding is available. The balance of the cost is expected to come from port revenues and other grants.

The goal is to break ground this year with a projected 2023 completion.

The location of the new dock facilities is an undeveloped parcel of land east of the Lake Express ferry terminal.

The southern dock has been used in the past for cruise ships like Le Champlain and Hamburg. The eastern dock at South Shore will be developed especially for Seawaymax vessels.

passenger view

The view the ships will see when docking. (PHOTO: Port Milwaukee)

“We’ve prioritized major investments in Wisconsin’s tourism industry, because it’s at the core of our local economies, helping to promote local festivals and events, support small businesses, restaurants, and hotels, showcase our outdoor recreation opportunities, and so much more, ” said Evers in announcing the grants at an event that also included Rep. Gwen Moore and Acting Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson.

“From Green Bay to Hayward to Wisconsin Dells, these capital infrastructure projects will help ensure Wisconsin’s tourism industry—and all the industries that depend on it—continue to be a strong part of our economy.”