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Podcast: Downtown Milwaukee arena for Bucks will require bold vision, creative execution

We offer our initial thoughts on the looming arena issue in the latest podcast episode.


Thanks in no small part to Herb Kohl's unwavering belief that the Bucks belong in Milwaukee, the city and the surrounding area now has a unique opportunity to weigh a combined $200 million pledge from Kohl and new (prospective) owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens and decide what it will take to make sure the Bucks remain a cultural pillar of the local scene. We here at Brew Hoop obviously love the Bucks and value their presence in Milwaukee more than the average person, so obviously we are focused on finding a reasonable solution that benefits all parties and keeps the team rooted in Wisconsin.

Developing a public-private partnership to build a cultural asset like a multi-purpose downtown arena will no doubt require broad buy-in for a bold vision and creative non-partisan problem solving efforts from local leaders. Unfortunately, this topic can too easily devolve into a binary political debate where complex issues get reduced to talking points and toxic buzz words. Our hope is that stakeholders never lose focus of the big picture and find a way to address financing in a logical fashion.

If the first step is to secure the largest investments from private business that will benefit the most from a new arena, the good news is that Kohl has pledged a $100 million gift and Lasry/Edens are prepared to commit at least $100 million as well. Additionally, more local investors are expected to buy in to the franchise, which along with arena naming rights and other sponsorship deals suggest an infusion of additional money should be on the way from other private entities.

If the second step is to raise money from the people who will use the facility and derive the most benefit from the project, we hope that all options stay on the table, including ticket taxes (yes, ticket prices will go up and none of us are allowed to complain, okay?), hotel taxes, "sin" taxes, TIFs, etc. From there, it will come down to finding the most effective ways to bridge the gaps and generate community support. Hopefully the ball can get rolling on this front as soon as NBA owners formally approve the sale of the Bucks, and groups like Common Ground can search for a happy compromise with a reasonable level of money put toward ancillary local improvements.

Given the modest size of the Milwaukee media market, public money will almost certainly be needed, so the goal should be to identify the key needs of stakeholders and use every funding mechanism in tool box to strike the right balance and get a deal done. Not that the status quo is cheap either: the Bradley Center will cost an estimated $100 million to keep running over the next decade, so it's possible that the state gets stuck with a hefty arena bill even without a new arena. This is ultimately a high-stakes negotiation with the fate of the Bucks and the future direction of Milwaukee hanging in the balance, so things may get ugly before a solution emerges. We will do our best to help the discourse rise above petty politics and myopic debates to at least pose the question of what type of city Milwaukee wants to be and how an arena could perhaps become the centerpiece of a broader revitalization plan downtown.

A bold vision for building a better Milwaukee and enhancing the cultural profile of the city needs to emerge for any proposed arena project to succeed, and we feel hopeful about local leadership finding solutions that keep the Bucks in Milwaukee. Check out our podcast on the arena issue and let us know what you think in the comments section.

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If you need to catch up on our latest podcasts, be sure to check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our discussion on the transition in ownership and the potential importance of making a decision on GM John Hammond prior to the 2014 NBA Draft.