As expected, Gov. Scott Walker officially signed the Bucks' arena financing bill into law on Tuesday, clearing the way for a potential groundbreaking as soon as October or November. Walker signed the bill at the Wisconsin State Fair, flanked by many of the state and local leaders who helped craft the agreement over the past six months.
Mayor Barrett says common council will vote on city portion of #BucksArena funding ($47 million) Sept. 22. Public hearing set for 8/31.— A.J. Bayatpour (@AJBayatpour) August 12, 2015
With the state's deal now officially done, only two substantive tasks remain before the Bucks can break ground on the $500 million arena project, with both expected to be complete within a month or so. The Milwaukee Common Council must approve the city's portion of the deal -- a $35 million parking structure and a $12 million tax incremental financing district for the area surrounding the arena -- while the county must approve the sale of the Park East property to the Bucks' development company. As noted above, the city will hold a public hearing on the matter August 31, while the Common Council vote is expected on September 22.
The arena bill passed by the legislature included a provision enabling County Executive Chris Abele to sell the land without approval by the full county board, so that piece should be completed without much drama. The Bucks have proposed purchasing the land for $1, which sounds cheap until you realize the millions required to make the property ready for construction. Related: it's no coincidence that the land has been sitting empty for over 15 years. Removing an underground sewer has been estimated to cost $6 million, while removal of underground footings leftover from the previous highway spur is expected to cost an additional $3 million. For what it's worth, developer Blair Williams offered (you guessed it) $1 for a portion of the land last October as well, though he now supports the Bucks' project given its broader impact.
The Countdown to 2017
An October start date would leave exactly two years to complete the project ahead of the 17/18 season, a tight squeeze considering the enormity of the undertaking. Consider that Orlando's Amway Center, Charlotte's Time Warner Cable Arena, and Brooklyn's Barclays Center each took around 30 months from groundbreaking to opening, a timeline that would put completion into the first quarter of 2018. But the Bucks aren't alone in their hopes of building an arena in two years -- Sacramento broke ground on the newly-named Golden 1 Center in late October 2014 and one year later the Kings are still aiming to be ready for the fall of 2016. Pittsburgh also completed the $321 million Consol Energy Center in August 2010, exactly two years after breaking ground.
Still, it wouldn't be the end of the world if the timing slips from there. While the Bucks' sale agreement stipulated that a new arena be ready by the time that the current Bradley Center lease expires in the fall of 2017, we should be clear that there isn't any practical risk of the league moving the team once arena construction is underway. That clause was simply a forcing mechanism for getting a deal done; now the focus shifts to actually building something, with the Bucks having every incentive to do so as quickly and effectively as possible.
First, the team is on the hook for cost overruns, so any unforeseen costs will directly hit the Bucks' bottom line. Beyond that is the Bucks' obvious desire to get into a more economically attractive building as soon as possible. While the league would have little choice but to allow the Bucks to extend their lease at the BC by to accommodate reasonable delays in completing the new building, it would also cost the Bucks some indeterminate amount of money in foregone revenues. That's of course assuming that a work stoppage doesn't delay the 17/18 season; whether either the players or owners opt out is a major question mark at this point, though if the season is delayed it would buy the Bucks more time to finish the arena. Silver linings, guys!
A slew of not-so-minor details have yet to be determined as well, including how much the Bucks will pay in rent and how much they'd collect in naming rights (and from whom). The arena bill spelled out some of the new arena's key mechanics, including that the Bucks would get naming rights in exchange for paying for operations and maintenance expenses. But other components would still need to be negotiated between the to-be-revamped Wisconsin Center District board and tenants such as the Bucks, Marquette, and perhaps the Admirals. In short, things are happening fast -- but many, many things still need to happen before the arena sees its first game.