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What Could Local Support for A New Milwaukee Bucks Arena Look Like?

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The Milwaukee Bucks are expected to announce soon their preferred location for a new arena.

The NBA is threatening to move the Bucks if the team doesn’t get a new basketball arena by 2017. The league deems the BMO Harris Bradley Center aging and inadequate.

The team’s owners and former owner have committed some funding for a new facility. Gov. Scott Walker’s budget calls for state bonding, to help. Some legislators insist they will only approve a state share if local governments chip in.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says it’s important for the team to stay, yet local governments must prove their commitment.

“In the end, if strong local support is there, the state will be a partner,” Vos says.

Vos made the comment on the TV program, Sunday Insight.

He says local governments may have to chip in up to $95 million, because legislators won’t approve as much in borrowing as the governor wants.

“Gov. Walker’s proposal is too generous to the Bucks and I think if you look at our caucus, there is not support to come anywhere near that $220 million number,” Vos says.

The estimated cost of a new arena is between $400 and $500 million.

A few days ago, Milwaukee Ald. Joe Davis urged the city to kick in $50 million.

Credit Ann-Elise Henzl
Milwaukee Ald. Joe Davis announced a plan for the City to contribute $50 million to the cost of a new arena project. He donned a Bucks hat for the occasion.

“I can tell you that this catalytic project, the new proposed multi-purpose arena, not only will create construction jobs, but also will create long-term jobs that will remain here in the city of Milwaukee,” Davis says.

Davis’ proposal doesn’t sit well with Mayor Tom Barrett; the two may face each other in next year’s election. Barrett says the problem with borrowing $50 million, is that an arena wouldn’t generate property taxes needed to pay back the money. The city sometimes uses that method – called Tax Incremental Financing -- to fund neighborhood projects.

There is one way TIF could come into play, according to Rob Henken, president of the Public Policy Forum. He says if an arena project includes other businesses, such as restaurants or hotels, their property tax revenue could help repay city bonds.

“That’s really one of the key questions that those of us on the outside don’t know yet: are we talking about just an arena, or are we talking about a much bigger project involving all sorts of additional development,” Henken asks.

Common Council President Michael Murphy says questions remain even for those inside city government. And they make any type of city commitment premature.

“I have not received any formal asks from the Bucks organization at all, and I haven’t seen a design of a building or the cost of the building, let alone the location of the building. So there are still a lot of unknowns out there, and I think we want to take this in a responsible manner and wait to hear back from them,” Murphy says.

The city’s share could come in the form of paying for road repairs or other infrastructure needs. Yet the Public Policy Forum’s Rob Henken says leaders will have to keep in mind the revenue constraints the state budget imposes on local government.

As for a possible Milwaukee County contribution, Henken says it could come in the form of property.

“There is not yet a site that has been selected, but if indeed the site is north of the existing Bradley Center and it encompasses some of the Park East lands owned by the county, would a county contribution be the donation of the land that it owns, or perhaps the sale of the land at a vastly reduced price,” Henken asks.

A spokesman for the Milwaukee County Board says without a firm proposal, there’s no real buzz about an arena yet among supervisors. The Bucks recently hired a design team to develop arena plans and say they hope to share information in the near future.

Ann-Elise is WUWM's news director.
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