Brennan Seehafer invests in Manitowoc with two entertainment venues

In seventh grade, Manitowoc’s Brennan Seehafer started a production company and put on a major show at the city’s Capitol Civic Center. He spent hours planning, finding sponsors and selling program ads to offset the risk. The show was a success.

“I’ve always loved planning and management in the music industry,” he said. “It was exciting to plan and organize events. And I still did my homework.

He formed Brennan Seehafer Productions in 2007 and continued planning shows after moving to Nashville after graduation. There he apprenticed for the Country Music Association and toured with Luke Bryan for a few years. He also continued to expand his production company and produces and promotes 40 to 50 shows a year.

The only change is that her home base is back at Manitowoc.

“I went to Nashville to experience new things, but realized there was a void at Manitowoc,” Seehafer said. “There was no bar on the seafront, and I thought that offered a unique opportunity.”

In 2018, he decides to go ahead with his dream. He bought land on the waterfront from Manitowoc Company and set out to prove he could run a successful bar. Because it was just getting started, lenders wanted to see some history before offering a loan. Seehafer was up to the challenge.

Using shipping containers, he created a seasonal venue called The Wharf that quickly became known for its free entertainment, extensive drink menu and wonderful aesthetic. With a large outdoor patio, the bar became a destination during the COVID-19 pandemic as patrons felt safer sitting outside. Success soon followed and he began to plan something bigger.

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He had numbers that proved his abilities as an owner, but still needed a business plan. To get help, he took a business plan course through the UW-Green Bay Small Business Development Center.

“This class was essential and is offered throughout Wisconsin,” Seehafer said. “If you complete your plan, you actually get your money back. With the help of SBDC’s Dave Stauffacher and Tara Carr, I had a great plan to take to the bank.

The hardest part of writing the plan, he noted, was estimating the revenue that would come from adding a food menu. This was new to him, and he went through a calendar and looked at each day of the year to find averages that again proved the strength of the plan.

These efforts came to fruition when Seehafer secured a loan to build a $1.8 million facility with a state-of-the-art retractable roof system, large overhead doors for fair-weather events, event space with a separate bar and food truck style kitchen. There is green space for yard games and the patio can accommodate up to 900 people.

The Wharf at Manitowoc first opened as a temporary summer concert hall made from old shipping containers.  Its popularity gave owner Brennan Seehafer the idea of ​​expanding the seasonal site into a full-time operation.

He describes it as “a unique Manitowoc entertainment experience like no other. This project transformed a once unused space along the Manitowoc River into a place of all-weather entertainment. Guests love the laid-back, nautical-themed vibe and outdoor patio with live entertainment.

The wharf also benefits from being next to the SS Badger, the ferry that connects Manitowoc to Ludington, Michigan.

But, as the business grew, Seehafer realized that the demand for event space exceeded the ability to meet those needs. With his wife, Shilah, at the head of The Wharf, he set his sights on a third enterprise: the conversion of a downtown warehouse into an event venue.

The Venue at Union Square, a 5,000 square foot facility located about a block from The Wharf, opened in late 2021 and features a modern industrial design that preserves the original brick walls, high ceilings and beams apparent.

Seehafer says it is a full-service event space for hosting wedding ceremonies, receptions, corporate events, conventions, holiday parties, and other events. Wedding planning and coordination services are available. It has a capacity of 300 and Seehafer is personally involved in the planning.

“I do all the bookings and programming for talent at The Wharf, Venue at Union Square and the production company,” he said. “I don’t keep track of my hours – I’d hate to know that.”

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The wharf is hosting over 125 free events and 10 ticketed events this year. Then there’s the large number of event bookings at the venue and his events with Seehafer Productions that take him around the country. As the businesses have grown, he employs around 35 people at The Wharf, 12 at The Venue and three with the production company. It also uses independent contractors.

“We’re lucky to have good staff for the summer and we haven’t had any problems,” Seehafer said. “Part of it is the way we treat our employees – it’s like one big family. We all hang out together and enjoy each other’s company.

Fun is a word that seems to define all of Seehafer’s endeavors.

“I love working with people, and when I see the joy an event brings, it’s great to have been able to accompany them throughout the process. And, with The Wharf, we have created a place where people can come and relax from the stresses of life and feel like they are on vacation,” he said.

Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and former district manager of SCORE, Wisconsin.