"...not an insignificant amount..."
Senator Herb Kohl hopped off his wallet and got Milwaukee's new-arena debate going in earnest Friday.
By pledging some of his own cash--"not an insignificant amount", in his words--talk can now start about Milwaukee keeping the Bucks, and who else wants to help Kohl in that quest.
One of the possible answers is "no", as in no, this city can no longer support an NBA franchise in this economic climate and no, we don't have the cash to build a new arena when there's a building that still has that fresh-paint smell to many of us who still go there.
Kohl is very smart to admit that we have other, more pressing needs but his point about the Bucks being part of the local quality of life is well taken, too. We'd be paralyzed if we waited for the day when every local need had been addressed before we let ourselves spend on a few diversions. There'd be no zoo if that were the case. Or Miller Park. Okay, maybe that's a bad example because the debate about paying for the stadium left wounds that are still open to this day. Those scars are fresh enough to shame most local politicians into silence whenever the talk turned to the Bradley Center's alleged obsolescence.
With Kohl's chat Friday the talk can start, discussion that will include some if not all of the following questions:
How much cash is Kohl willing to put on the pile? "Not an insignificant amount" is a relative term, and no amount may be enough for some taxpayers who think the Senator should pick up the entire tab. You've heard the argument from the guy at almost every local bar who grouses that if, "that millionaire owner wants a new playground for his millionaire athletes--hey, can I have another Pabst?--then he can build it himself." That guy, and the many like him, will never be happy to see tax-dollar one go toward a new arena. No matter how wealthy Kohl and his players are, it's not realistic to expect him to pick up the tab. Lloyd and Jane Pettit did that with the Bradley Center. Last I looked, we're fresh out of such local philanthropy. That doesn't mean that other people of means--including business--can't help cover the rest to minimize the taxpayer contribution. The smaller the tab for Joe Lunchbucket, the easier any financial plan becomes to sell.
Is the Bradley Center too old? Architecturally, no. In NBA terms, yes. That sell will be a tough one, too, in a town where good enough is good enough. Renovation of the 25 year old building never seems to get brought up, in part because it's thought the revenue streams the Bucks are dying for (restaurants, stores, club seating) would require expansion of the land-locked BC's footprint). If the current building doesn't qualify as a fixer-upper, there are two options: leave it as-is and watch the Bucks eventually bolt, or build new.
Where would a new building go? We ticked off the Pettits to the point where they almost pulled the Bradley Center cash amid such an argument before cooler heads prevailed. The open sore that is the long-vacant Park East corridor would seem to be a logical spot but logic often isn't part of such discussion. Is downtown the only option? Is there a suburb that wants to become the next Auburn Hills, Arlington or Anaheim?
How do we avoid a similar situation 25 years from now? The Bradley Center was state of the art when it opened in 1988 but times changed. Suites aren't enough the only revenue stream NBA teams need--in fact, they're going away, replaced by club seating, restaurants, and stores. And, nice as the building was, no one set up a way to fund improvements, repairs and renovations. The Arena, Frontier Airlines Center and Milwaukee Theater get tax money. The BC didn't until Madison tossed five million dollars its way recently. Talk of any new facility needs to address future needs including maintenance funds, future adaptability and access to tax revenue.
The biggest question of all is, does Milwaukee still want the Bucks? Here's a sample of what I hear most about the team: "I don't like NBA hoop--I'd much rather go to a college game", "It's way too expensive, and the games don't mean anything until the playoffs", "Those guys don't play hard all of the time--I'm not going to spend that kind of money to watch a half-assed effort". I don't hear anyone hatin' on the Bucks, and winning hoop would have a lot of these same folks snapping their ankles as they hopped back aboard the team bandwagon. Remember a few springs ago, when the Bucks made the playoffs? The town was alive, and people gave a rip again about the NBA. Hard times returned, though, and the malaise is back. No wonder Kohl said it was so important for the squad to make the postseason this time around. His announcement Friday is landing on a lot of lackadaisical local ears that otherwise would've been ringing with the cheers from a few BC playoff scraps.
None of the answers are easy, and they'll say a lot about who we are as a community. Our leaders, business and elected, are about to earn their keep. Taxpayers? We'll be left with the city we deserve. The Senator's announcement Friday opens the door to discussions that weren't going to start until he talked: yes, he wants to build a new facility and he's willing to kick in. "Not an insignificant amount", as he put it.
How does Milwaukee respond?
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