Debate heats up over who will pay for new Bucks arena, and how

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) — The Milwaukee Bucks will soon have new owners -- so will the team also be getting a new arena? On Thursday, April 17th, the debate heated up in a big way. City and business leaders on Thursday discussed who should pay for the building, and how.

The panel at Thursday's Milwaukee Press Club event seemed to agree on at least a couple of things: A new arena should be built in downtown Milwaukee, and it isn't realistic to expect a property tax hike to help cover the cost.

Other than that, just about everything else remains on the table.

One day after the Bucks introduced new owners and concluded one of the worst seasons in team history, the court at the BMO Harris Bradley Center became a forum for the debate over how to fund a new arena.

"I`ve been very upfront that the economic benefits of the facility can be questioned as to whether there is a huge return on your investment, but I wouldn`t dismiss the psychological impact of having one of 30 national franchises," Milwaukee Common Council President Michael Murphy said.

Murphy maintains any public funding should come from a number of communities -- including the Racine County, Waukesha County and Ozaukee County -- places where the county boards have already rejected the notion of chipping in toward a new arena.

"The business community has a big, heavy load to carry right now. I think they need to work with their elected officials, their constituencies, and educate the public as to why they feel this is a beneficial return on the future investment of this facility," an official said.

On Wednesday, new Bucks owners Wesley Edens and Mark Lasry announced they would put $100 million toward the new facility.

The man who is selling the team -- former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl has also pledged $100 million.

Still, it'll cost at least an additional $200 million to build a new arena.

"If there`s a good investment, if it`s a good, reasonable investment -- and in this case, we`re really on the verge of a magnificent public-private partnership," BMO Harris Bradley Center Chairman Mark Marotta said.

Gary Witt with the Pabst Theater Foundation says taxpayers should consider the broad impact of having a new arena, and the status that comes with it.

"Every single day that I`m in business, I don`t just sell tickets. I market and advertise the beauty of coming downtown in the city of Milwaukee," Witt said.

While supporters call Wednesday's announcement a "game-changer," it's still clear there's disagreement over who should pay the rest of a multi-million dollar tab.

"I think people outside of Milwaukee should realize that helps our region and our state," Murphy said.

The NBA Board of Governors is meeting Thursday and Friday in New York. Sources tell FOX6 News the board will not yet vote to approve the sale. However, Lasry and Edens are expected to attend and meet the league's other owners.

Supporter say there will be additional private contributions to a new arena, but the panel seemed to agree -- some public funding will be necessary to completely cover the cost.

FOX6 News contacted Neil deMause, an author who has written extensively about citys and arena funding. In an email, deMause said the following:

"I've always said that there's a price point at which helping to fund an arena makes sense for a city. Unfortunately, the actual value of an arena to the public is usually a decimal place or two over from the hundreds of millions of dollars that team owners are asking for.

"A ticket tax wouldn't be a bad idea, because most economists agree that those tend to come more out of the pockets of team owners than of taxpayers. The problem is that, because it would come out of the pockets of Lasry and Edens, they're not likely to be happy to pay that on top of the $200 million that they're already putting in toward an arena ($100m from their own pocket and $100m as part of the sale price). So it's a "solution" in the same way that telling them "Pay for it your own damn selves" is a solution, but neither is going to go over well on the owners' side of the negotiating table."


I'll be very surprised at this point if the Bucks situation doesn't lead to at least one round of move threats by Lasry and Edens before this is all over. It reminds me a lot of the Mario Lemieux situation in Pittsburgh, where he bought the Penguins to "save the team" and within a few years was jetting off to Kansas City to meet with arena officials there in hopes of shaking down his hometown for more arena funds.

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  • Jr

    The NBA won’t approve the sale unless a new state of the art arena is built. No stadium, no sale until the BC lease is up then the team will certainly move

  • Donna

    Why can’t they just expand and renovate the Bradley Center? That’s cheaper than building a new place! Also we’re still paying for the Milwaukee Brewers stadium! Give the public a break!

  • desean

    they should take the current video screens and scoreboards from the bradley center and put them in the new onethey are good enough budjet is tight save some dollars and replace bradley center with us celluar scorebords and videoscreens

  • 2econd

    huh, remember how we were all told that the Brewers stadium tax was to be a 7 year temporary tax? were STILL paying it! NO to anything getting paid for by the tax payer! they want to threaten to leave, see ya!

  • Deb

    How about collecting a mere 3% from the ridiculous salaries the players are collecting? That would probably pay for the whole stadium and take care of the upkeep for the life of the stadium!

  • Mr. Wonderful

    As a taxpayer, I am sure to receive a return on my investment from Herb Kohl (owner of the Milwaukee Bucks) for the money that my tax dollars will go into rebuilding his arena? I feel very confident that this wealthy Jewish businessman and former U.S. Senator (Democrat) will provide profit sharing to all the taxpayers in Wisconsin, for helping him with these improvements. As a taxpayer venture capitalist, I feel just like Mr. Wonderful on Shark Tank!!! Wow, I’m a great guy, aren’t I? It is a wonderful feeling to be able to help out a “small businessman”!!!!

  • Taxpayer

    As this debate over Wisconsin tax dollars support for constructing a new Milwaukee Bucks arena proceeds should I expect in the near future that all other Wisconsin businesses will be stamping their feet and pouting to get their cut of corporate welfare as well, or should I expect those businesses will also pick up their ball and leave the state too if they don’t get their free taxpayer dollars? If we give corporate welfare to one business (the Bucks), what prevents other businesses from asking for, and receiving the same? (The real answer is that corporate welfare in Wisconsin only applies to ultra-wealthy, Jewish, well-connected, retired U.S. Senators that own a NBA franchise) – What a great deal for Herb Kohl; all the benefits of capitalism, but without the risk…

  • Wisconsin Taxpayer

    The U.S. foreign policy for dealing with terrorists is that “we don’t negotiate, and we don’t pay a ransom for hostages taken.”
    Can we possibly hope our state and local politicians have the moral fiber to do what is right and apply this same policy to Herb Kohl, or to the soon coming new owners – – – – “We the Wisconsin politicians are not going to hold the Wisconsin taxpayer hostage to your demands.”
    If you can’t pay your bills on your own, leave the state, that’s fine with me.
    ….Don’t let the door hit you in the rear on the way out.

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