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Charlie Sykes: Sykes Writes

A Streetcar Named Boondoggle

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Hey, it's OPM (Other People's Money.) But with their usual indifference to fiscal reality, Milwaukee pols move to ignore warnings from (1) the city's top fiscal watchdog, and (2) local utilities who warn that building the Downtown streetcar will cost tens of millions of previously unreported infrastructure costs., ... i.e. the cost of modifying, moving, tearing out steam, gas, electrical, telecommunications lines currently under the streets or running the overhead wires and in ground power for the rail system.... over and above the reported $64.6 million price tag. The Barrett Streetcar runs up Broadway Avenue, which is a main artery in the city’s downtown steam network and it the single hub for all telecommunications switching for the state – phones, cable, fiber optic, etc. It will take years and tens of millions of dollars to adapt the underground infrastructure.  (We Energies alone might to spend more than $40 million). This is not the first time, of course, that city leaders rushed ahead with a massive boondoggle. Here is one blast from the past (and you might recognize the author):


From the beginning, critics sniped that spending $42 million in taxpayer dollars for the “Milwaukee Theater” would be a colossal waste of money. Critics argued that Milwaukee already had enough entertainment venues (The Marcus Center, the Pabst Theater, the Riverside ) and predicted that the new theater – the brainchild of Milwaukee Center District Board Chairman Frank Gimbel -- would be a costly, duplicative white elephant.

They had no idea.

A quick look at the Milwaukee Theater’s 2008 schedule reveals a vast wasteland of empty seats and darkened houses, a boondoggle of astounding proportions, even by Milwaukee ’s free-spending standards. (We are, after all, the home of the multi-billion dollar Deep Tunnel.)

In May, the Theater is scheduled to host Garrison Keillor and a production of “Evita.” In June, it has a single entertainment booking -- “Raven Symone’s Pajama Party Concert,” but that has been postponed indefinitely. But after that concert, the taxpayer-funded Theater has nothing on the schedule for the next six months. Nothing. (“Celtic Thunder” is scheduled to perform on December 16, the one and only performance booked for the remainder of the year.)

From May 1, through the end of 2008, the theater is booked for commercial entertainment events on just five nights. (The US Cellular Arena, which is also part of the Wisconsin Center , is booked for only a single event in the second half of the year.)

All of this is right across the street from Milwaukee ’s premiere sports arena, the Bradley Center . With the collapse of the ill-conceived plans to sell the naming rights, attention is already shifting to alternatives, including merging the private Bradley Center with the Center District....

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