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Bucks Arena Talks Center on Use of Public Money

Courtesy of the Milwaukee Bucks

Within the next couple weeks, there could be a suggested financing plan for a new arena in downtown Milwaukee.

Gov. Walker says he’s optimistic a deal is near. Members of his staff have been meeting frequently with elected leaders and representatives of the Milwaukee Bucks. Talks are expected to continue this week.

The sticking point, according to Walker, is coming up with the right combination of public money for a new basketball arena.

“Part of it is going to require the city and county to play a meaningful role and what that is, is part of the process of bringing people together,” Walker says.

The cost of a new sports complex is estimated at $500 million. The Milwaukee Bucks’ current and former owners have pledged half the money. Walker does not expect them to contribute more.

“I think a quarter of a billion dollars is one of the bigger amounts we’ve seen between the two owners and the former owner. That’s helped from the get-go that they’re willing to make that kind of a sizable contribution. Obviously if they gave more, it would be easier,” Walker says.

So the other $250 million would likely have to come from taxpayers. The governor has proposed a jock tax to cover a state contribution. Wisconsin would borrow $220 million and then repay it with income tax money the NBA players pay the state. However, some legislators want to limit the state contribution to $150 million and borrow it via another agency.

Either way, leaders are looking for the city and county to pick up the rest. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says a big local share only makes sense because Milwaukee would reap the most benefits.

“Remember, it’s not just for the Bucks, it’s an entertainment venue that also will bring in concerts will help stimulate the local economy downtown but it also is the home for the Admirals and Marquette and a lot of other teams,” Vos says.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett pledged $25 million on behalf of the city. The money would come in the form of donated land and a tax financing program. County Executive Chris Abele has not yet publicly detailed a possible county investment.

Democratic State Sen. Nikiya Harris Dodd hopes leaders take an all-hands-on-deck approach to making the arena happen. Her district covers downtown. Dodd sees new jobs.

“Not to mention with the new development how we can get more minority contractors employed as well and get them on the project. I think it would help revitalize our city, employing men of color and making sure we can sustain our economy because right now, what we see is 50 some percent or more of black male unemployment,” Harris Dodd says.

There are other community leaders who oppose spending tax money on a venue that they insist some residents will never visit. The NBA has given the Bucks and community until 2017 to build the team a new basketball arena, or the league says it will buy and relocate the franchise.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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