Did it take chatter in Seattle to get Milwaukee talking about the Bradley Center?
It's the 18,000 seat elephant in the room.
Something will have to be done about the Bradley Center--fix it, expand it, replace it, or leave it as is. Yes, doing nothing is an option, with the Bucks' departure considered the likely reaction.
If anyone of prominence is talking about the issue, they're doing it very quietly or out of the earshot of any reporters. The subject comes up among local NBA fans on occasion, with most agreeing that no one has an appetite for another battle about a new sports venue. Memories of the Miller Park tussle remain fresh, even though it happened a decade and a half ago.
The Milwaukee Journal, though, broached the subject Tuesday morning.
It might be because of a piece that ran a few weeks ago in a Seattle newspaper, one that mentions the city as a possible new home for the Bucks if a new arena doesn't happen in Milwaukee. "For those who don't think the Bucks could leave, consider a story that appeared in The Seattle Times last month," the editorial says. "The story listed the Bucks as one of five teams that would be a good fit for Seattle. Seattle lost its team to Oklahoma City in 2008, after unsuccessful efforts to persuade Washington state government officials to provide funding to update KeyArena. The Seattle Times put the odds of the Bucks moving in the next five years at 10-1. Paul Swangard, managing director at the University of Oregon's Sports Marketing Center, said the Bucks would be intriguing for any city looking for an NBA franchise because the team has an aging owner in Herb Kohl and it lacks a sizable increase in local support. "It has the characteristics one would look for in saying that's a team ripe for ownership change and quite possibly location change," Swangard said in an interview with The Seattle Times."
Herb Kohl can't talk about moving the team. That would be perceived as a threat. Jim Fitzgerald put the Bucks up for sale back in the 80's amid an arena debate. Then-Mayor Henry Maier said that the old Arena was fine and that the Bucks were free to leave if they didn't like their digs Herb Kohl bought the team, Lloyd and Jane Pettit built the Bradley Center and the issue was settled.
Until now. The Seattle Times may have given local civic leaders, deep pocketed players and others connected to the Bradley Center debate the chance to actually start the conversation. "See?" they can say. "We aren't making any threats. It's those people in Seattle who are making goo-goo eyes at the Bucks!"
The Journal/Sentinel is right. The Bradley Center is an issue and needs to be talked about. It may not seem like a pressing need, but given Milwaukee's reputation for glacial movement on pressing civic matters and the general distaste for such debates, the question can't be raised too soon, even if the answer about building a new arena is "no".
It won't be pretty. There will be plenty of people who'll want to spend owner Herb Kohl's money, others who'll question his commitment to the team and Milwaukee. There will be talk about local priorities--do we need to replace a 24 year old building when the city has so many other needs?--and the value of the team to Milwaukee. And, if we do agree on putting up a new facility, there will be the great debate about where to put it. Bad as we are about tackling tough issues in a timely fashion, we're downright putrid when it comes time to finding places to put new things. There are still folks who think Miller Park should be downtown. And, the Pettits almost pulled the plans for the Bradley Center amid the push to have it built next to County Stadium.
Uncomfortable. Uneasy. Unsettling. Unappetizing. That's what we face as we start talk about the Bradley Center.
Guess it's no wonder why no one wanted to take the issue up until today.