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After Navigating 4 Stadiums in 12 Years, Former Minneapolis Mayor Has Advice for Milwaukee

Jenni Konrad

From – literally – the second he was elected mayor of Minneapolis to the time he left office twelve years later, R.T. Rybak was constantly in the middle of debates about new sports facilities. 

Credit gennextmsp.org
Former Minneapolis mayor, R.T. Rybak.

Under his watch, a new baseball stadium went up for the Twins, a new football stadium was constructed for the University of Minnesota, an aging basketball arena was renovated and plans put in place for a new NFL stadium.  And while each was marked by controversy, Rybak maintained a strong measure of popularity throughout.

So as he watches a similar debate unfold about a Milwaukee basketball arena, it’s not surprising Rybak has some thoughts about the process.  Lake Effect's Mitch Teich caught up with him as he was preparing to talk to the annual meeting of the Greater Milwaukee Committee.

Rybak more than understands the predicament the city is in and balancing appealing to the public while battling market forces.

"It's important for a town, especially Milwaukee, to keep the Bucks," he says. "But it's also important to negotiate really tough on behalf of the public. And I think if you craft a very pragmatic approach saying look, we want to keep the team, we want to upgrade a facility that's clearly not as competitive, but are not going to be chumps at the hands of sports owners, I think you can craft something that works."

Rybak's experience in Minneapolis of overseeing multiple stadium upgrades, demolitions and construction, shows that though the process may be difficult, both the city and state can benefit from a sports investment.

"There are ways to do this thing right, and I just think that you have to love the Bucks, but you also have to watch out for the public bucks at the same time," he says.

R.T. Rybak served as mayor of Minneapolis from 2002 to January of last year.  He now runs an initiative called Generation Next which seeks to close achievement gaps, and he also teaches a course called Mayor 101 at the University of Minnesota. 

Audrey is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
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