As discussed last week, the Bucks have officially put pen to paper on a new six year lease with the BMO Harris Bradley Center, replacing the year-to-year arrangement that had been the norm since 2007.
The message to fans, politicians, the NBA and everyone else with an eye on the Bucks' long term future is clear: the Bucks can get by at the BC for a while, but the clock is ticking for a real solution. Bradley Center chairman Marc Marotta has no illusions about that either.
"As an aging building operating amid the rapidly escalating economics of the sports and entertainment industry, the BMO Harris Bradley Center simply would not have been financially stable enough to support a multiyear lease without these key factors," Marotta said.
"While we're still not quite in the position to meet all of the center's significant fiscal needs, we are getting close. The new lease extension is an important step forward - and there is still more to do to enhance our fiscal position, maintain Mrs. Pettit's generous community gift and keep the building safe and enjoyable for the next several years."
So what happens next? With new sponsorships and state funding lined up to keep the BC viable in the short term, the good news is that the Bucks and local business leaders can re-direct their focus to building a case for a new arena. In other words, what really matters.
But we likely won't see any big movement on that front until Kohl sets his mind to it, which in this case would seem to begin with a more thought-out development and financing plan. In short: what do you want to build and who's going to pay for it?
Kohl's life as a publicly-elected official has always made the public financing topic a political minefield, but his retirement from the senate at the end of this year frees him to act more like an owner and less like a public servant looking for a handout. For the future of the Bucks that's a very good thing. And while he's largely been silent (or shall we say diplomatic?) on the topic over the years, he spoke at length about the arena issue at his most recent season-ending press conference. From our story back in May:
Kohl On Working For A New Arena In Milwaukee: "We think it's important for our community, for our state, for Milwaukee to be represented in the NBA. Now in order for that to continue, we have to have a new facility. There isn't anybody that doesn't recognize that and understand that it has to happen. And we are no longer talking about it as some point in the future, we are talking about beginning to make plans to get it done. We've had some conversations with the NBA about it, we are looking to extend our lease for a relatively short time at the Bradley Center...so what we are looking to do is sign a rather short-term extension while we get busy right now on planning for a new facility. So we are not just talking about it, we are actively working on it and we'll get into high gear, I hope, soon on trying to accomplish our goal."
Kohl On If He Will Make a Personal Financial Commitment To A New Arena: "I'm sure I will at some time."
"Recognizing how hard it is to get financing for any sports facility in America today, nevertheless I believe we are going to have a shot at getting it done. The maximum effort will be put forth not just by the Bucks, because we couldn't get it done alone, but by the business sector and the public sector and hopefully the media all recognizing that it's not a wish thing, it's a must thing for us to continue as a member in the NBA."
There's been little speculation about how much Kohl might actually shell out of his own pocket, but we can only assume it would be substantial. Back in the mid-'90s, Kohl made the largest gift in the history of the UW system when he donated $25 million to fund the appropriately-named Kohl Center, which cost around $76 million in total. But that cost is relative peanuts compared to the price tag of modern NBA arenas, which typically come as part of more comprehensive development projects including shopping, restaurant and other entertainment options.
For example, Orlando's Amway Center cost around $380 million when it opened in 2010, excluding a further $100 million in land and infrastructure costs. The Magic contributed $50 million in cash up front, were on the hook for cost overruns, will pay $1 million in rent annually for 30 years and also backstopped $100 million in bonds for the project. Needless to say, this isn't the kind of deal that gets hammered out over a few weeks.
So in summary: things are moving. Maybe not as quickly as Bucks fans would like, but about as quickly as can probably be expected given the politics and economics involved.