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Downtown Milwaukee Businesses Get Bucks Basketball Bounce, But What About Once The Finals End?

Outside Fiserv Forum
Chuck Quirmbach
Damir Zoric (left) and an unidentified friend outside the Fiserv Forum on Monday.

The Milwaukee Bucks playoff run has brought more dollars to downtown Milwaukee merchants. But what will happen to businesses when the basketball season comes to an end?

For now, the Bucks and other firms can count on people like Damir Zoric. He was raised in Milwaukee, currently lives in Las Vegas and came back here to attend the NBA Finals.

As Zoric leaves the Bucks store at the Fiserv Forum with a bagful of purchases, he says, laughing, "Yeah, I got a shirt, hat, and this Starter jacket. Nice little $150 real quick."

But Zoric says he's pleased to help the economy of his old hometown. "I mean, I throw money away for the dumbest reasons. I'm happy to funnel some into the city," he says.

Zoric tells WUWM that he's also glad to see some diversity and unity — at least downtown. "It really is a beautiful city. I mean it's got its issues obviously, being one of the most segregated cities in the U.S., historically speaking. I think having people come out, get together, unify, it's nice to view some positivity, you know?" he says..

20210712_143833_HDR (1).jpg
Chuck Quirmbach
Several downtown bars are offering drink specials during the NBA Finals.

But Wednesday night could be the last home game of the season, and regardless of what the Bucks do against the Phoenix Suns — the NBA Finals will be done by the end of next week.

Beth Weirick hopes by then, more people will be coming downtown for other reasons. Weirick is CEO of the Milwaukee Downtown Business Improvement District and says efforts will continue to promote the downtown as a great destination.

"I think about the announcement of Milwaukee Tool buying a building in downtown Milwaukee and moving 800-1,200 employees here. And, announcements like Pridetober Fest that is going to be happening now in October. Lots of activations as we're coming out post-pandemic," she says.

Weirick says another big moment for downtown will be when most downtown workers return to their offices. Milwaukee appears to be ahead of the national average, she says.

"We're at about 47% of our workforce back, and the national average is just a little bit over 40. We expect those numbers to increase after Labor Day. I think a lot of people that have been able to successfully work remotely are going to take advantage of that. But, what I'm really seeing is the desire to get back into the office again, back in the groove again and get connected with the community," Weirick says.

Weirick acknowledges that some downtown companies will move into a hybrid model, where workers spend some time at the office and some at home. But she predicts by the end of the year, 80 to 85% of daytime employees will be back working downtown.

Chuck Quirmbach
Thousands of fans are expected at the Fiserv Plaza while the Bucks play inside Wednesday night, against the Phoenix Suns.

Damir Zoric, our Bucks gear shopper, says downtown can also succeed at other hours by being inclusive. "It's about coming together, and getting the city moving forward, from the past," he says.

That's with either the momentum started by a Milwaukee team winning the NBA Championship, or having come close. We'll find out which over the next two, three or four games between the Bucks and the Suns.

Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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