Sophisticated and timeless, Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center is the centerpiece of the downtown Madison, WI skyline. With its tiered, curvilinear design, the structure seemingly rises from the waters of Lake Monona, organically linking it with the city beyond.  

The spectacular symmetry of Monona Terrace contrasts beautifully with its majestic neighbor, the Wisconsin State Capitol. If the Dome is Madison’s top-hat, Monona Terrace is the eclectic bowtie. Together these two iconic landmarks link Lake Monona and Lake Mendota together as one of only two major U.S. cities built on an isthmus.  Today Madison, Wisconsin is well known as a tourist and convention destination and a must-see location for Frank Lloyd Wright enthusiasts from all over the world.

It’s no surprise that our multitude of guests and visitors come with questions about all things related to Monona Terrace. Here we answer some of the most common, interesting, and helpful questions we receive.  First, here’s Monona Terrace by the numbers:

  • Opened on July 18, 1997
  • $67.1 million (in 1997 dollars) in construction costs
  • 250,000 total square feet
  • Five levels
  • 85,000 total square feet of meeting and exhibit space
  • 37,200 square-foot Exhibition Hall
  • 13,524 square-foot Madison Ballroom
  • 68,000 square-foot William T. Evjue Rooftop Gardens
  • 600 space attached parking facility

How much money does Monona Terrace generate for the city?
In 2022, Monona Terrace generated $22 million in economic benefits.

How many people visit Monona Terrace each year?
Nearly 400,000 people visit Monona Terrace each year for events, conventions, exhibitions, community programs, and to take a tour.

Are bikes allowed on the grounds of Monona Terrace?
Bike riders are always welcome on designated pedestrian/bike paths. We also have an elevator on the east side of the complex to get riders from the lake level up to the street.

Does Monona Terrace have free events?
Yes! Over 50,000 people take advantage of our free, family-friendly events and community programs each year. The best way to keep current with what’s going on is our Calendar of Events and our  Facebook page.

Is Monona Terrace environmentally friendly?
Yes, and it’s one of our core principles. We consider ourselves stewards of Lake Monona and are committed to sustainability and being environmentally friendly. We are both LEED Platinum and Global Biorisk Advisory Council® (GBAC) STAR™ rated. Learn more about our initiatives here.

What are the best things to do at Monona Terrace?
Great question! If you’re not attending a wedding or convention (or even if you are!), here are some other things to do at Monona Terrace. 

  • Take a Tour
    Monona Terrace offers multiple tours, including an hour-long guided tour which is perfect for both newcomers and for returning visitors who want to learn more. Group tours are available as well.

Our more in-depth tour is “Inspired by Wright” This hands-on experience dives more deeply into Wright’s design style, use of geometric shapes, and his integration of his designs with the natural surroundings. Get more tour information here.

  • Enjoy a free event
    Monona Terrace has lots of free events throughout the year including yoga and meditation, rooftop concerts, lakeside dance lab and much more. Learn more about our community programs here
  • Take in the view
    The William T. Evjue Rooftop Gardens is the best place in the city to enjoy the view of the Madison skyline and beautiful Lake Monona. Grab a bit at Lake Vista Cafe (open during summer months), listen to a concert, or just walk the landscaped grounds. 
  • Go for a walk
    Just walking the grounds at Monona Terrace is a nice way to get some fresh air, exercise and enjoy the view. But Monona Terrace is a prime location to start a walking tour of the city, which includes several museums, the Overture Center, and the Capitol Dome, music, dining and more. Learn more about walking downtown Madison here

Can I host an event at Monona Terrace?
Absolutely! Our most common events are weddings, but we also host other private events, like dinners, reunions, anniversaries, and business-related events. For more information, get in touch with us here.

Does Monona Terrace have hotel rooms?
We don’t have a hotel onsite, but there are thousands of hotel rooms in a wide range of accommodations in the downtown Madison area. You can find lots of options here.

Is it true Frank Lloyd Wright designed Monona Terrace but never saw it completed?
Sadly, this is true. Frank Lloyd Wright first proposed his design for Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in 1938, long before its construction. Wright’s vision was for an all-encompassing hybrid space for culture, recreation, and government to come together. After several iterations, he finally approved the final design in 1959 just seven weeks before he died. For decades, Wright’s design gathered dust at Taliesin, his world-renowned home and school of architecture. But his designs would once again see the light of day, as his final design in 1959 is mostly what you see today.

Did Wright design both the exterior and the interior of Monona Terrace?
No. Wright had passed long before the project was ready to commence in 1990’s. The interior design was completed by one of Wright’s key apprentices, Anthony “Tony” Puttman.  

Didn’t Wright’s design almost not get used?
Yes, and it’s an amazing story, too! In the mid 1980’s, civic leaders in Madison wanted to revitalize the downtown area, which had suffered significant economic and social decline in the 1970’s and 80’s. The construction of a new convention and community center began gathering momentum, as cities across the country were building convention centers to accommodate the rise in trade associations looking for bigger and better spaces.

But the project didn’t come together without conflict and controversy. Where would it be built downtown?  How big would it be? What was its purpose? How much would it cost and who would pay for it? After years of study and debate, five official proposals were submitted to the city, and despite being discussed for decades, Wright’s design for Monona Terrace was not among them.  The proposal for the Nolen Terrace Convention Center (the only proposal designed on the lake!) was immediately the crowd favorite. But while spectacular, it was too expensive and was voted down in a city referendum.

However, after the Nolen Terrace project failed to garner the votes needed, it inspired Geraldine Nestingen, whose husband had championed Wright’s design, to compose a letter-to-the-editor of the Capital Times newspaper. She simply wondered why Wright’s design hadn’t been reconsidered. The letter was read by William Wesley Peters, who was Chairman of the Wright foundation and vice president of Taliesin Architects. He wrote her back, and eventually more letters were written by people who had worked on the original Wright project. Coincidentally, a Madison-based real estate developer, James Carley, was appointed to the Commission on Taliesin. A series of serendipitous meetings and conversations reinvigorated interest in Wright’s lakeside design, and a plan re-emerged for Monona Terrace.  

Then, as luck would have it, a 1988 Wright Exhibition at the University of Wisconsin featured a newly restored model of Monona Terrace. The 3D model of the magnificent structure literally extending over Lake Monona sparked the imagination of the general public and a groundswell of support for the project.

Spearheaded by newly elected mayor, Paul Soglin, the revitalized Monona Terrace project slowly and gruelingly came together. While Soglin and his team figured out how to pay for the ambitious project without public funding, many powerful and influential Madisonians were firmly against the project and large advertising campaigns, both pro and con, battled for control. But by 1992, Monona Terrace had won both the popular vote and the support of the county, and final designs were approved in 1994.  

How long did it take to build Monona Terrace?
The final designs were approved in 1994, with construction beginning on January 25, 1995. Approximately 2 and a half years later, the doors officially opened on July 18, 1997. 

Now, thanks to Wright’s design and the dedicated efforts of so many others,  Monona Terrace is a key part of downtown Madison’s success, and why so many Madisonians and visitors say “see you at Monona Terrace!”