Coming off one of of their best two week stretches in recent memory, the Milwaukee Bucks and their fans are looking to keep the momentum going -- both on and off the court.
Following Gov. Scott Walker's announcement that his budget would include $220 million in bonding for a new downtown arena, Jason Kidd's club has conveniently surged to win five in a row and improve their overall record to a season-best five games over .500 (27-22). A raucous sellout crowd on Saturday night played no small role in inspiring a seriously shorthanded Bucks rotation to an impressive win over the Blazers, and the good vibes continued on Tuesday at an arena rally event at Surg downtown. Via CBS 58:
The event coincided with Walker's formal budget address on Tuesday night, though Walker notably avoided the arena funding topic in his speech. That doesn't mean it was forgotten of course. Over the past week, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and others have suggested that Walker's original $220 million proposal could and/or should be slashed considerably, in large part code for "Hey Milwaukee, step up to the plate." Via Rich Kirchen of the Milwaukee Business Journal:
The number could go as low as $100 million, Vos said in an interview Wednesday afternoon with the Milwaukee Business Journal. Vos was on a panel earlier Wednesday at a meeting of the Wisconsin Counties Association where State Sen. Tom Tiffany, a Republican who represents the northwoods section of the state, predicted the Legislature would cut the arena bond figure to $100 million.
"I actually think that that's a reasonable number," Vos said.
That sentiment echoes other comments from Vos suggesting the current proposal has "zero chance" of being passed as is, with additional local support -- both private and public -- the obvious prerequisite for Madison to follow through on state funding. All of that seems doable and in many ways inevitable once an arena site location is finalized -- sometime in the next month? -- but until then everything will remain in something of a holding pattern. In other words, Bucks fans shouldn't be discouraged by stories cherry-picking the "zero chance" snippet; following Walker's announcement, we've seen a shift from debating if a new arena will receive state funding to how much it will be. On a fundamental level that's huge.
Still, we shouldn't underestimate the political give-and-take required to get a deal over the finish line either. As we've repeated over and over, any agreement between private and public stakeholders will necessarily be a negotiation, albeit one complicated by the funhouse mirror of political horse-trading and public relations posturing. For starters, while Walker's budgetary proposal ties back into tax revenues generated by the Bucks themselves, no one in the state legislature wants to risk being the next George Petak. The circumstances are vastly different, but upstate politicians will be wary of being perceived as too willing to "ship money to Milwaukee," especially when the city's own leadership has been reticent to go all-in before a site is finalized (never mind that much of the "state" money in question is actually coming from the NBA's revenue sharing money and national TV deal...). It's all fine and good for Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to express his support of the Walker proposal, but it'd also be silly for him not to support a deal that helps bring a half billion dollar investment to his city.
Looking ahead, Walker's commitment leaves the ball decidedly in Milwaukee's court, though that's not a bad thing. The team must next put forth a substantive proposal for a site and surrounding development -- which sounds close -- while the city will need to show it's not just going to free ride off the state's bonding authority. It shouldn't be that hard; way back in August we heard Bucks investor Ted Kellner suggest private contributions would ultimately reach $300 million, a figure that Walker's proposal conveniently sets as the outside funding amount required before state funding would come into play. Besides, would you really bet against the likes of Wes Edens, Marc Lasry and Jamie Dinan getting something done at this point? They've already got the governor on their side, which combined with their immense wealth and deal-making prowess would seem to make a solution a matter of when not if.
As for the city, Barrett told the Journal-Sentinel this week that the city contributed $35 million in land and infrastructure support to the development of the Bradley Center in the '80s, so that gives you some idea of the magnitude of city and county support that might be coming, especially with city or county-owned land likely required for the final site location. We haven't heard anything about a tax incremental financing district in some time, but that could also be a possibility even if Barrett and company would prefer to avoid it.
And so here's the good news: Even if state funding comes in at "just" $100 million, you're probably not that far off the estimated $450-500 million figure commonly cited for a new arena. The low end of state funding added to $300 million in private money and perhaps $50 million in city and county contributions adds up to $450 million, with the possibility of topping off the project with additional money from any of the three. Much work left to be done, but much room for optimism as well.