One of the most historic votes in the history of Wisconsin may be held in the next week or so. The vote will decide the fate of the Milwaukee Sports and Entertainment District, the future of the Bucks’ tenure in Milwaukee and likely the future of Wisconsin’s largest metropolitan area. The arena debate will finally come to an end and our elected officials will determine whether the public will become 50% partners in financing a new Milwaukee arena.
Milwaukee and the State of Wisconsin have been fortunate; for twenty-six years, we have enjoyed the benefits of an arena created by one family’s generosity, and without any public dollars, essentially unheard of in sports facility development. We have had the continued right to be one of only twenty-nine cities worldwide to be a member of the National Basketball Association. As we near the finish line, the private side of the equation has committed 50% of the proposed costs of a new arena through the generosity of Senator Kohl and the financial commitment of the Bucks new owners. The percentage of commitment, as indicated in Politifact, is historically on the high side.
But more important, the future of 4th Street and Milwaukee’s Sports and Entertainment District is hanging in the balance. This commitment is not only to create a needed new arena, but to recreate our sports and entertainment district in downtown Milwaukee into a sports community, a destination real estate development with an additional private infusion of half a billion dollars more or less.
Milwaukee, to be a first class city, must invest in its infrastructure and certainly a sports and entertainment district is part of it. An anchor tenant, a destination place, and a private capital infusion, is well worth the public investment.
The threats of removal and relocation of the Bucks from Milwaukee are real. There are recipient cities in waiting that would create sweetheart deals for the Bucks, where ownership would not have to contribute the amount that is being required in Milwaukee.
This is not about millionaire basketball players and billionaire hedge fund owners. More importantly, it is about the future of Milwaukee and its place as a destination place for young minds and as an attractive place to live. A sports community is certainly what Milwaukee needs—a new gateway to its downtown area and a place to live, work, and play.
The question is simple – Why has it taken so long to make such an easy decision?
Where were our leaders two years ago when all the writing was on the wall? Certainly the sale of the Bucks by Senator Kohl and the need for a new state of the art facility were not secrets. A public apology to the new owners for not having a solution in place upon their acquisition of the team is in order. Although the best time to accomplish this solution has past, we must thank and give gratitude to those business, community, and political leaders who have seen the light of day and have attempted to bring this issue to a close. Some of the proposed financing components are novel and an indication of a creative attempt to make this happen.
Hopefully, the arena debate is over and the Bucks will have a long term future in Milwaukee. Neither the residents of Milwaukee, nor Wisconsin, will want to experience the detrimental impact of the Bucks leaving town for good.
Martin J. Greenberg is a Milwaukee Real Estate and Sports Lawyer, author of the book The Stadium Game, and an adjunct professor at the Marquette University Law School teaching a course in sports facility development.
This article was originally published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on July 13, 2015