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Milwaukee Common Council approves Bucks arena plan

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As expected, the Milwaukee Common Council voted to approve the city's $47 million portion of a Milwaukee Bucksarena financing package on Tuesday, clearing the last financing hurdle before ground-breaking on the project can begin. The 12-3 vote follows the Wisconsin Legislature's approval in July of a $250 million public funding package for the $500 million arena project, though a number of key project details -- final arena designs, public plaza street closings, tenant leases with the Wisconsin Center District, etc -- have yet to be finalized.

Nevertheless, it's a positively huge milestone for the team and city, one that for all intents and purposes ensures the Bucks' long-term future in Milwaukee. Team President Peter Feigin not surprisingly echoed that sentiment in a team statement:

"Today is a truly historic day for Milwaukee and Wisconsin, and the culmination of months of hard work from an incredible coalition passionate about our community's future. Thanks to the support of Sen. Kohl, Mayor Barrett and the Common Council, and other elected officials in both Milwaukee and Madison, this transformative public-private partnership is now a reality. Now it's time to get to work creating jobs and building a better Milwaukee - not just for the Bucks, but for all citizens of this great state."

The team has always targeted completion of the arena in time for the start of the 17/18 season, though Bucks investor and real estate developer Michael Fascitelli indicated last week that a spring 2016 ground-breaking and 2018 completion may be more likely. A provision in the team's sale agreement to Wes Edens, Marc Lasry and Jamie Dinan stipulated that a new arena be ready by the fall of 2017, though there's no real threat of the league seeking to exercise its buy-back provision now that the $500 million arena has lined up its public and private financing. For reference, the Sacramento Kings are still hoping to open their new arena in the fall of 2016 after breaking ground in late October of 2014, though the two-year cycle in Sacramento remains somewhat more aggressive than the roughly 30-month cycles we saw in Orlando and Charlotte over the past decade.

The city's $47 million obligation will be paid through two tax incremental financing districts leveraging increased property taxes on commercial area around the new arena, while the remainder of the $250 million in public funding will come from a combination of tourist taxes collected by the Wisconsin Center District as well as county and state funding. The Journal-Sentinel's Tom Daykin reports on the details of the city's portion:

The first step will likely be constructing a new 1,243-space parking structure, to be built north of W. Juneau Ave. and east of N. 6th St., in the Park East strip. The city is paying $30 million to help finance that parking structure, and will split its revenue 50-50 with the Bucks.

It will replace a city-owned 1,000-space parking structure, north of W. Highland Ave. and east of N. 4th St., which will be given to the Bucks. The basketball club will eventually demolish that structure, valued at $7.4 million, and replace it with a privately financed entertainment center with restaurants, taverns and possible retail space.

Along with paying for the parking structure, the city will spend $17 million building a public plaza between the entertainment center and the new arena, which will be built just north of the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

The public plaza will be created by closing one block of N. 4th St., between W. Highland and W. Juneau avenues.

Bucks coach Jason Kidd, GM John Hammond and a large group of Bucks staff and fans were among those at the Common Council this morning, with anti-arena members of Common Ground also in attendance. Some highlights:

As part of the entertainment district planned adjacent to the arena, the Bucks have proposed creating a public plaza by permanently closing one block of 4th St. However, Ald. Bob Baumann proposed amendments last week limiting closures to game nights only, and a final decision was on Tuesday deferred to a separate vote at a later date.

So is that it? Can Bucks fans finally rest easy? Well, today's vote won't preclude the project from hitting additional turbulence over the next two or three years, but it does allow us to move past the "Will the Bucks stay in Milwaukee??" questions to the more fun topic of "How long until we get to see that shiny new arena?" That's a welcome change from past seasons, when the specter of an expiring lease and an aging building made the team's long-term viability in Milwaukee a constant question. So with media day set for next week, a more important topic will finally get our full attention: basketball.