Conversion of ‘The New State’ theater to music club now includes café


The effort to convert a historic old theater into an all-ages music club on the west side of Milwaukee adds a restaurant and an outdoor stage to the mix.

This development, dubbed The New State, would combine a non-profit arts group to help young people discover the world of music with for-profit businesses including sound engineering studios, a store to sell t-shirts and other branded goods of musicians and a sober performance hall for all ages.

The project would redevelop the old State Theater at 2612-2616 W. State St.

A nonprofit group, New State MKE LLC, purchased this building and two vacant lots near the city in 2018 for $ 2,000.

New State MKE has since removed asbestos from the building and made emergency repairs to the roof and foundations, said Dima Pochtarev, the group’s executive director.

The group in 2019 also bought an old neighboring tavern for $ 80,000, according to city valuation records.

Today, New State applied for a building permit to complete renovations of just over $ 65,000 to this 2,500 square foot one-story building, located at 2606-2610 W. State St.

This would be the first step towards creating a restaurant – tentatively named the New State Cafe.

The work would include facade repairs and interior demolition to create a space that could then be converted into a restaurant, Pochtarev told the Sentinel Journal.

Obtaining a restaurant tenant would generate cash flow to potentially help fund the conversion of the adjacent old theater to the New State Theater, he said.

In addition, the group plans to use the vacant land for the restaurant terrace and to create an outdoor stage for musical performances, Pochtarev said.

The future New State Cafe building features a recently unveiled mural by artist Brad Bernard.

The old two-story, 10,000-square-foot cinema was built in 1915. It housed a movie theater for over 30 years.

It then housed several nightclubs, including the Palms from 1979 to 1984.

The Palms featured bands like U2, Joan Jett, The Police, B-52s and Tom Petty – often before they were big stars.

The last business there was Hoops, a strip club, which operated from 1986 to 1991. The city later took possession of the building, which was damaged by fire in 2017.

As part of the redevelopment proposal, part of the building would house a new non-profit group, West Side Arts Un, Limited.

This group would help young people compose, record and perform music, with an emphasis on hip-hop and electronics.

Additional space would be leased from Mammyth Audio, Unifi Records, a consignment store for musicians to sell merchandise and a non-alcoholic performance hall for all ages.

In addition to foundation grants and individual contributions, the New State is seeking state and federal historic preservation tax credits to help pay for a portion of the renovation costs.

There would also be rental income from businesses.

Tom Daykin can be emailed to and followed by Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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