Milwaukee Common Council Approves Financing for Bucks Arena

Sep 22, 2015

The Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday approved spending $47 million to help the Bucks build a new downtown arena and entertainment center. 

The city and team had worked out differences on a few issues that had the potential to derail the project.

The final vote was 12-3, but it came with compromise. Last week, tension was high as lawmakers debated whether to permanently close 4th Street between Highland and Juneau to motor vehicles, as part of a new public plaza. Ald. Bob Bauman had concerns about giving up control of a city road and the possibility of a dead zone if the development does not happen. While the council put off a final vote, Bauman says he’s happy with the direction conversations are headed.

“Most significantly, is in the event that the Bucks cease to use the plaza for whatever reason, or cease to use it consistent with their plan of operation the city would have a right to get the street back,” Bauman says.

Another issue that demanded compromise had to do with the percentage of underemployed or unemployed residents the project would hire. The requirement will be 40 percent, as with all other city projects, after some council members objected to lowering the percentage to 30.

Ald. Milele Coggs was instrumental in developing a deal all parties could accept. She says the city’s goal is always to look out for the best interests of its people, and she hopes the arena project helps ease some of Milwaukee’s deep-seeded poverty.

“And as we talk about the historic nature of the size of this deal, just as historic efforts have to be made for inclusion and for opportunity for that economic gain for citizens in the city of Milwaukee,” Coggs says.  

The city and the team will each put up $375,000 for training workers and to analyze where the holes in the workforce lie.

The final issue at hand Tuesday was deciding who should get the revenue if naming rights are sold to the parking garage the city will build. Both parties agreed to split the money.

Ald. Nik Kovac says that while he fully supports the team, he could not support the deal as a whole. While the city is putting in $47 million, the amount of public money overall going into the project after interest is estimated at close to $400 million.

“There are so many good things that are a part of this deal that we all want to see happen, however, it is very hard for me not to stare that $400 million in the face again looking outside the city purview, but with the last chance for the public to weigh in on this and not think gosh do they really need all that money from us, and is there really no way they could pay us back?” Kovac says. 

Until recently, Bucks leadership remained hopeful that a new arena would be ready by the 2017 season, however that deadline has now been pushed back to 2018.