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Bucks arena funding approved; gov’s signature next

New Milwaukee Bucks arena

A $250 million state-local new Milwaukee Bucks arena funding plan was approved today by the Wisconsin Assembly on a rare bipartisan vote, clearing the way for Gov. Scott Walker’s signature in the near future.

The Bucks arena funding plan passed easily, 52-34, despite some talk in recent days that Wisconsin Democrats would not vote for the plan without some serious changes, including a commitment from the Bucks that the team stay past the terms of this lease. But that talk was quelled by legislative leaders, leading the passage of the bill. It next goes to Walker for his signature.

The plan calls for a $500-million arena in downtown Milwaukee’s Park East area, north of BMO Harris Bradley Center. The Bucks owners and former owner Herb Kohl are paying $250 million of the cost, with the rest coming from public sources. Left out of the talk in recent weeks: the Bucks owners are also looking at an additional $500 million in development near the arena, which could transform the west side of downtown Milwaukee.

The Bucks arena plan would have the state directly borrowing $55 million toward the arena construction, with the Wisconsin Center District — which runs the downtown convention center and Milwaukee Theatre and would add this arena as well as oversight of BMO Harris Bradley Center and Milwaukee Center for Performing Arts to its portfolio – would float $93 million in bonds. The city would create a TIF district and build a parking ramp, putting Milwaukee on the hook for some $47 million. The total public money would be capped at $250 million, as the Bucks owners would cover any overages.

The agreement has ripples throughout the NBA: the league holds an option to buy the team (and, presumably, sell it to Seattle or Las Vegas interests) if a new arena isn’t in place by 2017. This would seem to put the future of a proposed Seattle arena in question: with no clear path to an NBA team and the lack of a response to the NHL’s request for expansion proposals, developer Chris Hansen will need to decide whether to go ahead with the project basically on spec.

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