With ownership of the Milwaukee Bucks franchise set to pass from Herb Kohl to Marc Lasry and Wes Edens — pending rubber stamp approval of the $550 million purchase agreement by the NBA Board of Governors — the focus is already shifting from the vague concern about whether the Bucks will stay in Milwaukee to more specific questions how (and when) a viable arena plan will emerge within the community. There's still plenty of work left to be done, folks.
The bulk of the positive arena-related news was revealed during the official press conference announcing the transition in ownership. Kohl has pledged a $100 million gift to be used for funding a new arena, and soon-to-be-owners Edens and Lasry are primed to match that contribution using their own money. That significant starter fund was more than enough to get Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce (MMAC) president Tim Sheehy talking big picture at the presser:
"As we look forward, I have this message to the rest of the world: When somebody invests $550 million in your market, take note, because this is evidence of the confidence that we all have; that Milwaukee is a prosperous place, and [that] we are going to be successful going forward. To Milwaukeeans, I also say take note, because the announcement of this generous gift [of $200 million dollars] and the investment in a new facility, I believe, is going to light the fuse on a new era of development."
Of course, in this case the elephant in the room is really the actual room the team used to host the announcement. The BMO Harris Bradley Center can hardly be called an NBA-caliber facility going forward, and remodeling the 26-year-old building is not a reasonable option. The NBA has an interest in enforcing high standards when it comes to the quality of facilities that host its players and fans, which is part of the reason why the league originally set a deadline of 2017 for Milwaukee to build a new arena. The clock is certainly ticking, but now there may be more time to get something significant done.
The strong commitment to keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee that has emanated from Kohl and reverberated through Edens and Lasry has opened up the possiblilty that the deadline for a new arena could be extended to 2019. Bucks executive vice president Ron Walter told Rich Kirchen of the Milwaukee Business Journal that the team expects the NBA to provide more time if the ball gets rolling on a new arena in the near future:
"...if significant progress is made on a new facility in the next 12-18 months, including meeting specific milestones, then we are hopeful that the NBA would look favorably on a lease extension, which could then translate into more time to get to a new arena."
Kirchen also noted that when Edens spoke on the issue at the press conference he suggested that a year or so would be dedicated to planning, site selection, and design, with the goal of building a new arena within roughly two years. That ambitious timeline would alleviate the need for any extension of the league's deadline, but it's certainly nice to think that an additional block of time could become available if the early stages of planning and community buy-in go well.
Kohl's own statement on a possible deadline extension suggests the league will give Wisconsin every opportunity to make sure the Bucks franchise stays in Milwaukee: "The NBA wanted to be sure that they were giving us every opportunity to be successful — to their credit — and I'm deeply grateful that they are clearly wanting us to succeed."
Kohl reiterated in the press conference that the first step in funding a new arena will be to lure in as much private investment as possible for the project, but it's hard to see anything truly getting done without a significant portion of public money being pledged as well. The issue of public investment in a community asset of this magnitude is the next frontier in this movement, so expect more developments in this area down the line. For now, you can take comfort in thought that a league-imposed deadline likely won't be a fatal limiting factor with a new arena project.
In other arena news, Herb Kohl dropped another somewhat surprising nugget on Wednesday when he told Kirchen (hint: you should be following Rich by now) that he doesn't expect, or even necessarily want, a new facility in Milwaukee to be named after him, despite the substantial gift he has pledged to the project:
"If they named it after me, they would be forgoing naming rights money," Kohl. "And I wouldn't do that because they need that money. So, no, it's not going to be."
If Kohl wants to leave the revenue stream of arena naming rights open to those with a more direct stake in the new facility, you can chalk that up as yet another contribution he's willing to make to the cause. His steadfast belief that the Bucks belong in Milwaukee, and his confidence that Milwaukee deserves the best possible chance to keep the team, reveals a rare brand of loyalty and community pride that isn't easy to find in modern sports. If community leadership is even half as dedicated as Kohl is to these core principles, we should be in good shape going forward with the arena project. Go Bucks.