Talks between local and state officials and team ownership on new Bucks arena funding will continue this week, with all sides still sounding optimistic about the downtown Milwaukee project.
As the Wisconsin Legislature gets to crunch time on the 2015 session, the fate of new Bucks arena funding — though not specifically part of the budget — has become intertwined with other discussions of state spending. And during a time when state revenues are flat and legislators are looking at big cuts to education and University of Wisconsin, talk of new arena funding is attracting plenty of criticism — and some fears from legislators in swing districts, who don’t want to be on record for approving new Bucks arena spending while voting for widely unpopular UW funding cuts.
But the two issues are separate, at least in the way negotiations are heading. Gov. Scott Walker (a former Milwaukee County exec) has entered the talks, and right now they’re focused on the $500 million arena, as opposed to the proposed 1 million square feet of new development, mostly in the Park East corridor. The current spending calls for $500 million on the arena and $500 million on development. Bucks owners have committed $150 million toward the arena, with former owner Herb Kohl pledging another $100 million. That leaves $250 million outstanding, but there are proposals for the state to bond part of that amount, and both Milwaukee and Milwaukee County could come up with more in terms of land and TIF financing. Walker has said the owners have pledged enough; it’s up to government to come up with the other half:
“I think a quarter of a billion dollars is one of the bigger amounts we’ve seen between the two owners and the former owner. That’s helped from the get-go that they’re willing to make that kind of a sizable contribution. Obviously if they gave more, it would be easier,” Walker says.
A $150-million loan from a state fund has been floated as a likely way to close the $250-million gap, and there’s also been talk of a 1 percent sales-tax hike as well. So far precious few specifics have emerged, but talks will continue.
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