There is a general outline of the new Bucks arena cost — between $450 million and $500 million, depending on the scope of the project — and what sources of revenue are available ($150 million from current Bucks owners, $100 million from former Bucks owner Herb Kohl). But there’s no specific cost estimate, and past the contributions from the owners past and present, there’s just a lot of vagueness surrounding the new arena: there’s no location, and there’s no defined contribution from Milwaukee and/or Milwaukee County.
Which is why Wisconsin Assembly leaders asked for more specific before they can sign off on $220 million in new bonding to pay off BMO Harris Bradley Center debt and new spending on an arena. From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
[Milwaukee Mayor Tom] Barrett has said the city is exploring the possibility of creating tax incremental financing districts for infrastructure related to the arena as the city’s contribution. For his part, [County Executive Chris] Abele has said land available in the Park East corridor, near where the Bucks are expected to build their arena, could be a key part of the county’s contribution.
But there is increasing consensus, especially in Madison, that for the project to move forward, legislators and local elected officials need to know exactly what the Bucks have in mind.
“Both the mayor and I agreed that it’s important to know what the total cost of the project will be,” [Assembly Speaker Robin] Vos said. “We need to know the breadth of the project. We need to hear more from the team, the city and the county. I know the mayor is doing his due diligence.”
This puts the onus on the Bucks to propose a solid arena plan, but it also forces Barrett and Abele to commit to some sort of development plan as well. We’re seeing growth in Milwaukee’s urban core slightly outpacing growth in the suburbs, as the city transitions to a diversified job market (more high tech, less manufacturing), but it’s a slow transition. If a new arena is to be an economic driver, there needs to be some acknowledgement of this economic transition. That doesn’t necessarily mean high-tech office spaces; it could mean an entertainment district catering to those working in the new industries (in other words, a sleek microbrewery vs. a Harley-Davidson bar).
In any case, the pressure is on the Bucks to commit to a plan. The hiring of Populous to oversee design should help in this endeavor: the hiring was specifically done to foster planning. The Bucks are shooting for a 2017 opening, which is aggressive: that means design and construction needs to be completed in two years.
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