Arena financing prospects remain murky

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:14 pm

Every time the outlook has appeared gloomy for the prospects of an agreement for the public financing of a new arena in downtown Milwaukee, the various powers that be at the table have reassured me, “Relax. It will get done. It will get done, because it has to get done.”

Reminds me of Yul Brynner as the Pharaoh in “The Ten Commandments” movie saying, “So let it be written. So let it be done.”

The owners of the Milwaukee Bucks may not be plagued by swarms of locusts or blood in Menomonee River, but they sure are up against their share of obstacles in their drive for a new arena. With so much at stake, that’s the way it should be. To me, though, it’s always been about the bottom line. If it’s possible to strip away the politics of it all, (and I’m not sure it is) the bottom line becomes this: A new arena and the ancillary development around it would bring nearly $1 billion in new investments in downtown Milwaukee ($500 million for a new arena and $400 million in ancillary development in the Park East corridor).

The tricky and sticky part of that equation, of course, is the $250 million in public financing that would be needed to get it done.

And that is where the politics of it all inevitably always come back into play. Make no mistake, the Rube Goldberg public financing plan being kicked around the Capitol in Madison is a hodge-podge of give and take, the likes of which we’ve never seen…The product of hours and hours of horse trading.

The prospects for the plan remain murky, at best. How murky? I submit exhibit A, a “Capitol Update” from State Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green).

Marklein’s summary is headlined, “Go Ahead and Leave, Milwaukee Bucks.”


“Like many residents of the 17th Senate District, I have had very mixed feelings about the proposed deal to build a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks,” Marklein wrote. “I am not a Bucks fan. I don’t know a single player on the team. I can’t remember the last time I attended a game – or any event, for that matter – at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. Spending taxpayer money on an arena for a sport seems frivolous and irresponsible to me during a time when we are trimming our budget and making very tough decisions about core priorities in our state.”

However, Marklein then makes the following closing argument:
“To summarize our options:
1. We can do nothing. The Bucks will leave Wisconsin and the state will have to pay approximately $120 million over the next 10 years for debt, maintenance and operations of the building without player income taxes ($6.5+ million per year).
2. We can invest $4 million per year for 20 years, the Bucks will stay, we will collect $6.5+ million per year for player income taxes and $1 billion will be invested in the project and surrounding developments and we will get out of the arena business.”

Confused? Me too. So, I wrote to Marklein, asking him if the wrong headline was placed on the wrong press release. That’s because his closing argument makes the perfect case FOR a new arena financing plan, validating Gov. Scott Walker’s claim that it indeed is “cheaper to keep them.”

Back came Marklein’s response: “Steve – You read it perfectly! The headline was as intended…I can tell if someone read the article or not. Howard.”

Did I tell you the prospects for a new arena public financing plan are murky?

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes.

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