R.T. Rybak to city leaders: Think of new arena as one piece to larger puzzle of vibrant downtown

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak was in Milwaukee on Monday, February 9th to offer advice on how to build a new arena in downtown Milwaukee. Rybak has been through four stadium controversies in his time, and he says if Milwaukee wants to make a great city even better, the key is to think of the new arena as an urban planning tool and not just a place to play basketball.

Rybak spoke at the Greater Milwaukee Annual Membership Meeting Monday -- speaking to business and civic leaders. His message focused on the need to think of the new arena as just one piece to the larger puzzle of a vibrant downtown.

"Can there be other restaurants? Can that huge swath of vacant parking lots nearby become a brand new neighbor? Can that connect to the streetcar and the river and all the other entertainment?" Rybak said.

Rybak says a new arena would be an asset to Milwaukee.

"You have two really exciting projects underway now -- a basketball arena and a streetcar.  But stop thinking about those as things and more about connecting. How does a streetcar become part of an overall transit strategy and how does a basketball arena get woven into the community?" Rybak said.

But a big question remains. Who will pay for the $400 million to $500 million facility? So far, the Milwaukee Bucks' new owners have pledged $100 million. That offer was matched by the former owner Herb Kohl. Recently, Governor Scott Walker announced a "Pay Their Way" plan, where the state would provide $220 million in bonds for the new arena.

"The next step is to really finalize the site and once the site is finalized, a lot more of the pieces are going to fall into place. And so this is just part of the process and some of it is going to be done publicly, some of it is going to be negotiations over who pays for what," Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

"My experience with economic development has traditionally been, if you have a big opportunity, you don`t make money on selling the land. You make money on property tax bases and the jobs that are created. And we`ve in the past, for the right kind of deal, discounted the land and maybe we can do something like that," Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said.

Both Barrett and Abele say there are still a few moving parts in this debate, but all parties agree we are moving closer to a new arena.

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