At least someone is talking about what to do in downtown Milwaukee
That someone is Franklin Gimbel who heads up the Wisconsin Center District, the agency in charge of the Milwaukee Theater, the US Cellular Arena and the Frontier Airlines Convention Center.
Gimbel's ambitious plan is to expand the Frontier north toward Kilbourn and plop a new arena atop it, not unlike what New York does with Madison Square Garden. The Journal/Sentinel's Don Walker says Gimbel's been pitching the idea for quite awhile and that it's not getting much traction around town.
Too bad. The concept needs airing out, and nay-sayers should come up with other ideas.
The convention center IS too small, and the Bucks are gone without a new building. Merging these two civic needs under one umbrella is at least worthy of discussion. Face it: there isn't enough local passion to do a new NBA arena alone. This has to be about something bigger.
That's where the convention center expansion comes in. As Gimbel points out to our own Erik Bilstad of Wisconsin's Afternoon News, we become Des Moines without more floor space to compete for bigger national shows. It's a huge hole in our local economic game, and it needs urgent addressing. The arena? Again, it's about more than the Bucks--it's about becoming a bigger national draw for things like the NCAA tournament. Yes, Milwaukee and the BC are good enough for opening round action, but what about later round action, up to and including a Final Four?
It's time for Milwaukee to go big, to stop settling for a lounge chair in Chicago's shadow. Indianapolis did it. So did the Twin Cities. Why not us? A bigger convention center and a new arena could be just the boost the vacant Park East corridor needs. More people coming to town would mean more hotels, more restaurants, and more tax revenue that could be used to pay for new projects. The Wisconsin Center District under Gimbel's watch made mistakes--redoing the Arena and turning the Auditorium into the Milwaukee Theater among them--but the District has something no one else in the private sector has: tax capability.
Gimbel's idea isn't the be-all and end-all--it's merely a talking point, but it comes at a time when very few of our elected officials are willing to address the issue. The silence among our leaders is deafening. The MMAC bought Milwaukee five more years with the BMO/BC with it's sponsorship plan but the clock is running.
Kudos to Gimbel for having the stones to talk out loud about something too many other local officials are staying way too quiet about.