Loss of Bucks would hurt many downtown businesses

If the Bucks left Milwaukee, it would be a huge blow to several hotels and restaurants that depend on the crowds that are drawn to the arena for home games.

“(The Bucks) create vitality in downtown, they fill local businesses, and they create jobs,” said Paul Upchurch, president and chief executive officer of Visit Milwaukee.

With an average annual pull of more than 600,000 fans to the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the NBA franchise helps populate downtown venues, particularly during the winter months when the pace of tourism in the city slows down significantly.

Having that activity for those businesses is “just a great plus for them,” Upchurch said. “It keeps those businesses going.”

Milwaukee Brat House opened in 2008 at 1013 N. Old World Third St and has 30 employees. Owner Scott Schaefer located it strategically to be near both Fred Usinger Inc., its sausage supplier, and the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

“That definitely plays into how we operate the business, especially being centrally located and our back door is the Bradley Center,” Schaefer said. “Anything at the Bradley Center is definitely a bonus to us.”

Old World Third Street

While the bar and restaurant attracts tourists looking for German fare in the summer, on weekday nights in the winter, some of the only foot traffic on Old World Third Street is from BMO Harris Bradley Center patrons, he said.

If the Bucks left, “It would definitely hurt us because in the winter we rely completely on the Bradley Center and the Bucks play a ton of games. That drives our business in the winter,” Schaefer said.

Tutto is an Italian restaurant at 1033 N. Old World Third St. that Sal Safina’s family opened in 2007. In 2008, its sister nightclub, Notte, was added. The family owns the entire building, including three floors of apartments. It completed $2 million in renovations after the purchase, and now pays about $40,000 per year in property taxes.

“Any event at the Bradley Center, we get lots of increased traffic,” Safina said. “If there wasn’t an arena as close in proximity, we would have never bought this property and invested the money we did into it.”

If the Bucks left, Tutto could expect business to decrease by 30 percent or more, Safina said. He was among several bar and restaurant owners who could quote the exact number of home Bucks games per season, because the businesses can depend upon a bump in business on those nights.

“You figure the games are starting at 7 o’clock, so most diners will go out between 6 and 7 (p.m.),” Safina said. “That’s a lot of dining before your normal customers.”

“Incredible” impact

Even with poor attendance to Bucks games in recent years, there are still thousands of people walking by the restaurants on Old World Third Street each time there’s a game, he said.

Old German Beer Hall, a German-themed bar that opened at 1009 N. Old World Third St. in 2005, sees a spike in activity around most Bradley Center events, said Ed Strege, general manager. The bar experiences a particular impact when the Bucks play popular teams like the Chicago Bulls or the Miami Heat.

“Every healthy city should be able to support and provide a national sports team,” he said. “It’s nice to see Milwaukee support that.”

If the Bucks left, it would be devastating to the city overall, but also to the businesses around him, Strege said.

Major Goolsby’s restaurant and bar has been serving sports fans at 340 W. Kilbourn Ave. for more than 40 years. The business has developed a partnership with the Bucks for promotions and fan gatherings, said Chris Peppas, public relations and promotions manager.

The restaurant sets its staff schedules based on events at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, and the Bucks make up the lion’s share of them.

“It’s been a symbiotic relationship from the get-go,” Peppas said. “You come to Major Goolsby’s, you get quick, great food in a timely manner and get yourself over to the event that you want to see.”

Bucks games also draw much-needed visitors to downtown hotels battling the lull in tourism throughout the winter months.

“Forty one times a year, they bring 15,000-plus people into downtown Milwaukee to see what downtown has to offer,” said Tim Smith, general manager of InterContinental Milwaukee. “A lot of folks who come to those games don’t live or work in downtown Milwaukee.”

Their ability to draw all these people to the city is “incredible,” Smith said.

In addition to hosting visiting fans overnight last year, the InterContinental Milwaukee, located at 139 E. Kilbourn Ave., also provided rooms for six visiting NBA teams.

Losing the Bucks and all its home games would lead to a “substantial amount of business” lost for downtown hotels, Smith said.

“This hotel would certainly miss that, and we’re owned by the Marcus Corp., which also owns the Pfister, which is where the bulk of the other teams stay,” Smith said. “So certainly the Intercontinental and the Pfister Hotel would feel it.”

Hampton Inn & Suites Milwaukee Downtown, just a few blocks away at 176 W. Wisconsin Ave., would feel just as sharp of an effect if the Bucks were to leave the city, according to Terry Houdek, director of group and catering sales at the hotel.

When the Bucks’ home games pit them against the Chicago Bulls, the Indiana Pacers or the Minnesota Timberwolves, rooms at the Hampton Inn & Suites tend to sell out.

“Those dates, we notice that the demand is higher,” Houdek said.

Other games against high-profile teams like the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers also boost room occupancy rates at the hotel.

“If you’re taking a team out of the city, I’m going to feel it as far as my demand is concerned,” Houdek said.

Downtown partners

For the Hyatt Regency Milwaukee, also located in the heart of downtown at 333 W. Kilbourn Ave., losing the Bucks would mean more than losing out on overnight guests.

“The Bucks are one of our biggest partners,” said Paul Sharp, director of sales and marketing at the hotel. “So it would be devastating to us not only from a financial perspective but more so from a relationship perspective.”

In addition to hosting a number of events in conjunction with the Bucks, including a preview luncheon to kick off the current season, the Hyatt Regency has been a Bucks season ticket holder since it opened in 1980.

“It’s just an excellent option for us to be able to walk a block away from the hotel and have (clients) be so well taken care of at the BMO Harris Bradley Center,” Sharp said.

Sharp speculates that the loss of an NBA team in Milwaukee would equal a significant loss in occupancies and ancillary revenues for area hotels.

“It’s a big draw,” Sharp said. “It’s a big part of the city. And it’s a big part of our business plan for 2014 and beyond.”

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