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Dueling Proposals For Milwaukee Bucks Arena Site


More ripples developed this week, over where Milwaukee could build a new basketball arena for the Bucks. The team’s new owners want a site selected by the end of the year.

The most recent idea comes from David Uihlein. His mother was philanthropist Jane Bradley Pettit, who paid for the existing center.

Uihlein says the city should tear it down, along with the neighboring UWM Panther Arena and Milwaukee Theater, to make room for a new venue.

Franklyn Gimbel calls the idea of demolishing three existing venues unworkable. Gimbel is chairman of the Wisconsin Center District. It owns and operates the Panther Arena, the Milwaukee Theater and the convention center in downtown Milwaukee. He says two of the buildings have consistently made money.

“The income we derive from the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena and from the Milwaukee Theater exceed the expenses of the events that are there. It would be hurtful to our bottom line to lose the revenue stream from those two buildings,” Gimbel says.

Gimbel says the buildings have been the venue for the Milwaukee Wave, the Shrine Circus and the UWM men’s basketball team for years. He thinks it would be difficult for those tenants to find a new place to perform. Gimbel is pushing another proposed site for a new Bucks stadium, just north of the current BMO Harris Bradley Center.

“It gives to the owners of the Bucks real estate that’s already owned by the Bradley Center, there’s no buildings to be torn down, they can start construction forthwith if they get a financing plan in shape, and the Bradley Center after completion could be torn down,” Gimbel says.

Gimbel says he envisions the development of a “destination corridor” between a new Bucks stadium, the Milwaukee Theater and the Panther Arena. He says it could include a mix of retail outlets, bars and restaurants. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett isn’t so quick to dismiss David Uihlein’s proposal. Barrett calls the idea intriguing.

“It’s certainly one that we’re going to take seriously. It’s one that we haven’t looked at but there are several other sites as well. I appreciate the fact that he’s weighed in and the sites that he talked about are not off the table,” Barrett says.

Barrett says he would prefer a new arena be built strictly with private money. Former Bucks owner Herb Kohl, along with new owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens have each pledged large sums.

Another idea being bantered around is public money. Developer Gary Grunau has proposed a half percent sales tax to fund a new arena and other projects such as the downtown streetcar and Milwaukee Public Museum.

County Supervisor Gerry Broderick says he doesn’t think the idea will go anywhere. He says voters here approved an advisory referendum in 2008 for a half percent sales tax to help fund county parks and transit. But, the Legislature failed to grant the county approval to levy the tax.

“I look back and think of the progress that could have been made in the deferred maintenance in our parks system which is now over $300 million, our transit system which is in very tough shape. The public voted to remedy those things and all we got is silence, the public was ignored,” Broderick says.

Broderick says the idea of a sales tax for a new arena hasn’t been well received from local leaders. Mayor Barrett says he’s not even considering the option.

Marti was a reporter with WUWM from 1999 to 2021.
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