Questions about a new arena and tough love for the Bucks
Herb Kohl's commitment of what he terms "not an insignificant amount" of his own cash to a new Milwaukee arena did, indeed, get the debate going about both the need and the worthiness of such a task.
It won't be easy, pretty or cheap.
Before we start talking funding plans, cash sources, bonding, possible locations and other logistics, we have to ask a pair of questions: does Milwaukee want the Bucks, and can we support a 21st century NBA franchise?
The answers came easy in the late 60's when the Association gave Wes Pavilon and company a team. Milwaukee was still stinging from the loss of the Braves, the Arena was empty except when Al McGuire and the then-Marquette Warriors were using it and we locals needed something to do on all those chilly February nights. Tickets were cheap back then and selling them was the only "revenue stream" a team had to worry about--that, and the odd pennant, program or hot dog.
Even that wasn't enough, though, when the 1980's arrived and the NBA's resurgence kicked in. Owner Jim Fitzgerald couldn't make a go of it in what had by then become a dated Milwaukee Arena. A really cool floor wasn't enough.
Fitzgerald needed more suites and seats. He didn't get them, and the Bucks went on the block. Enter Herb Kohl, who bought the team and the Pettits who ponied up for the Bradley Center. All was well.
For 25 years, that is.
Now we're told the B-C is too old and doesn't have enough restaurants, stores and other "revenue streams". That's a tough sell in a practical town like ours where coupons are king and the city code of arms bears the motto, "If it's free, it's for me." The quest for a new building gets even more complicated when the team's fortunes get added to the equation: the Bucks are playoff-challenged, to put it politely, and local enthusiasm for the club is at low-ebb. People weren't mad about Milwaukee missing the postseason this spring--they simply didn't care.
The Journal/Sentinel rightly gives Kohl credit for starting the debate with his monetary committment last week. The paper goes a step further Wednesday morning by saying Kohl and business interests alone can't be counted on to pay for the new building, that taxpayers should kick in, too. JS suggests keeping the Miller Park sales tax in place to pick up that end of the bargain.
Those are some solid if not controversial talking points, but I think two questions have to be answered first before talk proceeds: does Milwaukee want the Bucks, and can we support a 21st century franchise? It's not Marquette and the Admirals asking for a new arena, after all. It's the Bucks spoiling for new digs, a sell that gets tough when times are hard and your team is buzz-challenged.
Kohl spent scads of money trying to turn the team around during his watch, and his pledge to keep the Bucks here is noble. He could sell anytime and recoup what he's lost but he's taking the high road. There's the old "build it and they will come" approach that we used to get Miller Park done, but there's the economic reality of spending a lot of money on something that may no longer be that big of a draw. Winning is the best marketing, and the Bucks could help their argument with some success. That said, look at how the Packers had to pound on Green Bay doors to push through the Lambeau referendum--and THAT was after a recent Super Bowl win.
A new arena is a great idea and a fabulous municipal mission IF the end game is a solid one. No one wants to see a glittery new arena sitting half full on a frosty February night when an NBA bottom-feeder is in town. Is Milwaukee ready to get behind it's Bucks? Is the city's love affair with pro-hoop still alive and well?
Answer those questions, and then we can get on to other questions, like the need for a new building and who's going to pay for it.