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The Cold Filtered Ramblings of Gene Mueller

Milwaukee's arena debate is about more than the Bucks

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Seems the only folks who have an issue with Milwaukee's BMO Harris Bradley Center are the building's NBA tenant.

Maybe that's why the debate about the need for a new facility is shot through the prism of the Bucks' needs: the "old" building (which opened in 1987) doesn't have luxury seats, the proper basketball configuration, enough restaurants or other amenities to make it a year round destination, etc.    Without those additional revenue streams, backers of a new arena say the Bucks won't be long for Milwaukee.   It's an argument local NBA backers eagerly repeat as the debate drags on.  The Journal/Sentinel rehashed a lot of it in a Monday morning editorial (along with an eloquent case against such an endeavor).

And, it's not enough to seal the deal.

A friend of mine (who needs to stay anonymous) had what is nothing short of a brilliant idea: in making the case for a new area, those pushing the idea need to make it about everything BUT the Bucks.   It makes perfect sense, and if anyone should know that, it's the local power brokers/makers/shakers who remember all to well the fight for Miller Park in general and the lack of any taxpayer sympathy when it comes to financially strapped team owners/athletes in particular.   People still steam about the five-county sales tax that made the Brewers new stadium a reality.   Folks in Racine recalled the state senator who's vote put the deal over the top, long before recalls were part of regular Madison business.

The Bucks have a fan base, one that grows exponentially when the team is playoff-worthy.   There are also plenty of locals who have no appetite for NBA ball and could care less whether or not the team stays, and a goodly number who don't want dime one of public money going to a new building when the old one seems quite fine, thank you.

A new arena doesn't just benefit the Bucks.   It could be a catalyst for Park East corridor development and a great addition to the city's sex appeal for conventions.   Pitch the new facility along with an expanded Delta Airlines Center.  Use some of that long vacant land for badly needed hotels and other tourist-friendly venues.   Point out the fact that the old arena is no longer the apple to a touring band's eye--concerts fill a lot of dates but a venue that's dated in comparison to buildings elsewhere is easy to skip.   That costs Milwaukee big time, too.  

And what about the NCAA?   Marquette is a division one team and no doubt could benefit from a new facility when it comes time to sell tickets and recruit prospects.   A bigger issue: is Milwaukee still on the NCAA short list for opening round March Madness with the BMO Harris Bradley Center (the city gets to host again in 2014)?   And, what would a new building (with additional hotel rooms) do for our chances of landing later-round action, perhaps even a Final Four?    Indianapolis did it.  Sheboygan hosts major golf championships.   Others elsewhere think big.  

Here, we create task forces.

That's not a knock.   MMAC head Tim Sheehy put the group together and tells JS, ""If we are going to lose this team, I rather we lose them on purpose than by accident. But that will be a decision that will be made down the road."  Good point.  Before anything happens, we have to decide as a community whether or not a new arena is a worthwhile endeavor.   Better to make that decision with eyes wide open than to bumble into the team's accidental departure.

Better still to make the best case possible using all available arguments.   A Bucks-centric arena debate is self-limiting, incomplete, myopic and wrong in that it keeps us from looking at a much bigger picture.   Framing the argument to only the NBA's future here denies Milwaukee a chance to think big.

This isn't a problem--it's an opportunity.  Milwaukee has a chance to paint with bold strokes, but we have to be smart enough to stand back from the easel and see a larger picture.


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