Pages borrowed, chances taken? For now, it's just a lot of talk...
So it may not only be about a new downtown Milwaukee arena, after all.
The Business Journal says local leaders are thinking of following Oklahoma City's playbook, perhaps tying a larger downtown revitalization project to a much-discussed replacement for the BMO Harris Bradley Center. The linchpin: some sort of city sales tax.
Gulp. Did someone just say "tax"?
OKC did it not once, but three times, building a new arena (then doing needed add-ons to make it NBA-ready for the Thunder when the team moved from Seattle), The first try in 1993 almost failed but the revenue generated helped build the arena, a minor league baseball stadium and other downtown improvements. The second (MAPS 2) was used for school projects. A third followed.
MAPS is a city tax, and it's way too early to speculate how it would be applied here--would suburbs in Milwaukee County be asked in, and how much would that complicate matters? How much of a tax would it be? Does it "sunset" (come with an expiration date) or is it left open the way OKC did?
The bigger issue is this: such an approach, assuming the arena effort is paired with other downtown renovations, makes the tax question less of a referendum on pro basketball in Milwaukee. Sorry Bucks fans, but that's a tough sell until a couple three world championship banners get unfurled. And, a few more butts fill the seats in the building they now occupy.
Downtown Milwaukee needs a lot,. A state-of-the-art sports/entertainment venue is on the list, as is a bigger/better convention center, Park East development and more hotels. OKC tackled downtown transit and trolleys with MAPS but Milwaukee probably needs to take baby steps, if it moves this way at all.
The Miller Park levy eventually got swallowed by lawmakers, but to quote absent friends, it went down like a bag of nails. That vote was strictly a roll call on baseball. The same can't happen if civic leaders pursue the new arena. The purpose has to be bigger, the rewards broader.
Milwaukee has been inert about such needs for way too long. Plenty of talk. Lots of blue ribbon commissions and white paper studies. It's good to see someone making an effort to find some answers. If this is the approach they decide to follow, so be it. Then, it's on those who live in Milwaukee to make some bold decisions at the ballot box.