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Milwaukee Bucks Arena Plan Heads to Governor Walker

Courtesy of the Milwaukee Bucks

The Wisconsin Assembly on Tuesday approved a funding deal for a new arena in Milwaukee. It would cover the public share; the Bucks’ former and current owners will contribute $250 million in private money. So after months of debate, the bill is headed to the desk of Gov. Scott Walker. The vote was not unanimous, 52 to 34, but the legislation did garner bipartisan support.

Originally, Gov. Walker proposed that the state borrow $220 million to cover nearly half of the projected cost of the arena. Republican lawmakers quickly shot down that idea and settled for $80 million. In the end, taxpayers will be on the hook for about $400 million over the next 20 years. The city of Milwaukee will provide a parking garage and neighborhood improvement financing. The Wisconsin Center District will issue about $203 million in bonds that taxpayers will have to pay-off, and the plan adds a $2 surcharge on Bucks’ tickets. Assembly Speaker Rob Vos calls it all, a good deal.

“We know that this facility will primarily benefit southeastern Wisconsin, but it’s important to remember this facility will benefit the entire state. It will boost economic development and rehabilitation in our state’s largest city, and one of the ones most in need of help,” Vos says.

It’s the prospect of that economic development that has Democrat LaTonya Johnson excited. She’s from Milwaukee.

“I come from a city that bolsters 56 percent unemployment rates for African American males. Eighty percent of our children live in poverty, that’s three out of four. Living in poverty in Milwaukee is not a life of luxury, it’s a life of either or every day. This development is going to be located four blocks away from Hillside, a low income housing project. This is an opportunity for those individuals to be able to walk to work,” Johnson says.

Johnson says opportunities like this don’t present themselves often, and when they do, you have to take advantage of them. The hour-long floor period resembled a love fest as no opponents spoke. But Republican Dale Kooyenga warned that a new arena will not change Milwaukee. And then he issued a challenge to the Bucks leadership.

“I would challenge the Bucks, especially with the coach here and the president here that the Bucks create an organization that recruits players that are role models for our young people. That they are involved in the community, that they use their resources and their time and their microphone to tell folks that the real change in Milwaukee is not going to be winning an NBA Championship. But what really could change Milwaukee is us continuing to come together,” Kooyenga says.

As for the land the arena and entertainment district will occupy, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has been working on a plan to sell about 10 acres to a development group led by the Buck’s main owners. The price: $1. Earlier this month, the governor cleared the way for Abele to make a deal without having to go through the County Board. Other parts of the deal still need city approval.

LaToya was a reporter with WUWM from 2006 to 2021.
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