City Council hears praise and opposition for Bucks arena deal

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

The Milwaukee Common Council Monday heard from dozens of supporters and opponents of public funding for a new $500 million downtown arena to be operated by the Milwaukee Bucks.

The meeting was one of the last opportunities the council had to publicly hear from constituents before voting on the deal Sept. 22. The Common Council’s decision is the last major hurdle to the months-long arena debate that has been dominating the calendars of elected officials statewide for much of the summer.

Opponents raised two major concerns Monday: the impact new bars and restaurants would have on existing downtown establishments, and making sure people who work on the project and at the arena are paid a fair wage.

“We have been gutted in this community,” said Daren Olson, a union worker and retired veteran. “This is really a special opportunity, but if we are going to compromise the people who work there, I will be against it.”

About 50 people from Common Ground, the group that has been actively opposed to the project, attended the meeting. Jennifer O’Hear made a statement on behalf of the group, saying if the project is approved, they will make funding a 2016 election issue.

“Our concern is and has always been proper use of public money,” O’Hear said. “If taxpayer money is used for an arena we must make a similar investment in our neighborhoods and our children.”

Several people also spoke in favor of the project including representatives from Marquette University, the African American Chamber of Commerce and the Milwaukee Urban League.

“A new arena in downtown Milwaukee is critical to the growth of Milwaukee and for us to remain as a first-class city,” said Bill Scholl, vice president and director of athletics at Marquette University. “This is a visionary billion dollar investment that is bigger than NBA basketball. It is transformational for our city and our state.”

The arena is planned for a site just north of the BMO Harris Bradley Center. The former and current owners of the Milwaukee Bucks have agreed to pay for half of the arena. The NBA says a new arena is needed to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee long term.

Under a bill signed by Gov. Scott Walker Aug. 12, the public would pay for the other half of the arena with a combination of state, county, city and Wisconsin Center District funding sources. There would also be a $2 per ticket surcharge for all arena events.

The city’s portion of the arena deal includes a $35 million parking structure and $12 million in tax incremental financing for public spaces, including a live block public plaza next to the arena.

Monday’s public hearing was part of the Steering & Rules Committee meeting. The city’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee and Finance & Personnel Committee will also discuss the issue Sept. 15 and Sept. 16, respectively, before the full council votes Sept. 22.

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