Small markets like Milwaukee face special challenges when it comes funding arenas. Tenants typically don’t generate enough revenue to cover the costs of construction, which means the public is frequently asked to help. In the case of Milwaukee, the idea of a dedicated sales tax in the five-county metro area is already under discussions as a potential revenue source. A regional sales tax was used to fund Miller Park, home of the Milwaukee Brewers, but that battle came with some political fallout, as one legislator was voted out of office after supporting the state legislation enabling the tax.
Spreading out the Bucks arena funding pain
This time around leaders are being a little smarter about not positioning the sales tax as benefiting just owner Herb Kohl: funding for a new arena as well as the Milwaukee Public Museum, the Marcus Center and the Milwaukee County Zoo is also being discussed. Good thing: many residents are going ask why Bucks owner Kohl could find the millions to fund the University of Wisconsin’s Kohl Center and not be putting serious money toward a new downtown Milwaukee arena. (We do expect the team to come up with a pretty serious financial contribution toward a new arena.)
So far suburban political leaders are neutral about a Bucks arena funding plan, according to this report in the Milwaukee Business Journal: Only the mayor of Racine, which was a reluctant partner in the Brewers ballpark funding plan, has come out against any regional plan. This will probably change. There are some virulently anti-tax cities in Milwaukee County, and it would be amazing if the most fervent supporters of Scott Walker and Paul Ryan would just roll over on a public-funding plan.