Sheehy says the region faces ‘a generational responsibility’

    More than any other public or private figure in southeastern Wisconsin, Tim Sheehy, the president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce is engaging the community in a discussion about the long-term facility needs for the Milwaukee region’s cultural and entertainment amenities.

    At the top of the list is the BMO Harris Bradley Center, which Sheehy refers to as the city’s “downtown entertainment center.” The 25-year-old BMO Harris Bradley Center has significant maintenance and repair needs and is no longer an adequate home for its anchor tenant, the Milwaukee Bucks. A new arena is likely needed to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee.

    In addition, other aging cultural and entertainment institutions in the region have growing capital needs, including the Milwaukee County Zoo and the Milwaukee Public Museum.

    The Bucks and other cultural and entertainment amenities are critical components for the ability of area businesses to attract and retain talented employees, Sheehy said.

    The time has come for the regional Milwaukee community to engage in a discussion about how to maintain its cultural and entertainment amenities, Sheehy says. To drive that discussion, the MMAC recently unveiled a 48-member Cultural and Entertainment Needs Task Force to study the needs of these institutions and to make funding recommendations.

    Sheehy recently spoke with BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor Andrew Weiland about the task force and about the importance of the Bucks and other cultural and entertainment amenities to the region’s economy. The following are excerpts from that interview.

    BizTimes: Please explain what the Culture and Entertainment Needs Task Force is and what its purpose is.

    Sheehy: “There, I think, are two goals for the task force. One is informational. Informational means that we get on the table in front of the community information about the public financing of our cultural and entertainment institutions, what the current state of those is, what’s the trend for financing, and what are the gaps. What are the needs?”

    BizTimes: What are the institutions that will be examined by the task force?

    Sheehy: “Institutions like the (Milwaukee County) Zoo, the (Milwaukee) Public Museum, the (Marcus Center for the Performing Arts), the (Milwaukee) Art Museum, the downtown entertainment center (the BMO Harris Bradley Center or its replacement). That’s not an exclusive list but that’s a list of probably the top five or six publicly funded cultural and entertainment institutions in terms of their draw.”

    BizTimes: So just public institutions?

    Sheehy: “It’s institutions receiving public funding. I’m just saying that’s a place to start. Look at those institutions, look at their capital needs, not their operating needs but their capital needs, and try to develop a strategy to support those institutions on a going forward basis. The goal of the group is to get this information out, get it on the table and the second goal is to produce a set of recommendations.”

    BizTimes: At this point do you have an idea of what these institutions need?

    Sheehy: “That work is being done primarily at this point by the Public Policy Forum. And they are going to produce a report that gets into some of the detail of the capital needs of these institutions. That will become a jumping off point for the task force.”

    BizTimes: That report comes out Dec. 13, right?

    Sheehy: “Correct. And that’s the date of (the task force’s) first meeting.”

    BizTimes: So that report becomes a starting point for all of the task force’s discussions.

    Sheehy: “We’re going to take advantage of the information in that report.”

    BizTimes: What is the reason that you felt the need for this to happen now?

    Sheehy: “I think the fuse to this discussion is the four years left that we have for our major tenant at the downtown entertainment center (BMO Harris Bradley Center), the Bucks. That’s the fuse for this.”

    BizTimes: Why are these institutions important to the community, and particularly to the business community?

    Sheehy: “The importance to the business community is that if you look at today’s environment where there is a premium on talent there’s a lot of mobility, we’re in a demographic crunch where we are trying to attract a lot of younger talent and keep a lot of younger talent in Milwaukee. And these institutions, the entertainment, the cultural assets, all add to the live, work and play of Milwaukee. They’re part of our attractiveness. They make this a stickier destination for talent, and that’s what the companies are looking for. So this makes Milwaukee a more attractive destination whether people are here or whether we are trying to attract them here.”

    BizTimes: So, it’s a quality of life issue?

    Sheehy: “It’s a quality of life issue that goes directly to the recruit-ability of Milwaukee and the sustainability of Milwaukee. I think there’s a second, related (issue), which is we have a generational responsibility to make these decisions.”

    BizTimes: Because these facilities were built years ago?

    Sheehy: “Yeah, because they were built years ago, and if we’re going to pass them on, these are decisions that we are going to need to make today.”

    BizTimes: What about the branding of Milwaukee, particularly with the Bucks? The NBA is a global institution. There are players on the Bucks team from all over the world. There are obviously people following the league all over the world, and that establishes a global image and brand for Milwaukee. How important is that?

    Sheehy: “This is not Milwaukee’s biggest challenge, but we think there is an incremental value to Milwaukee in having an NBA franchise. There are 28 markets in the world that have an NBA franchise. We are one of them. The NBA games are watched in (more than 200) different countries. This projects an image I think appropriately of Milwaukee as a global player, as a world class market. And there’s inherent value in that. It doesn’t benefit every citizen in Milwaukee, and I’m not saying it’s the most important thing, but I do think that that brand value is worth something to Milwaukee.”

    BizTimes: I know we’re getting ahead of the work of the task force, but do you have any ideas of funding options for any of these institutions, particularly the arena for the Bucks?

    Sheehy: “There are lots of concepts, and I’m not suggesting any of these are the answer. Clearly you could vote to extend the sales tax for Miller Park, you could change the geography that that tax applies to. You could look at other forms of revenue, an increment maybe a super TIF or something like that, where you take the additional value that these institutions create. There are multiple ways of doing this. And what we’re hoping the task force will do is put these ideas on paper, put the financial detail behind it and give the public something to chew on.”

    BizTimes: Bucks owner Herb Kohl has pledged that he would contribute a significant amount of funds toward a new facility for the team. Do you have any idea how much that is?

    Sheehy: “No. But I know this, Sen. Kohl is committed to keeping the team here. The team is of less value here than it would be on the open market. I think at the point when we have appropriately identified if we are going to remodel or build new, and what the cost of that is, I think it is in that context we would want to know from the senator what his contribution would be for a new facility. He said it’s going to be ‘not insignificant’ but without that context, it’s hard to evaluate that commitment.”

    BizTimes: Has there been any thought to where a new arena would be built and how much it would cost or are these the things the task force will need to hammer out?

    Sheehy: “This is the kind of information that I think will flow to the task force as they make a recommendation for the community. I don’t know that the task force is going to weigh in on where it should be located. That’s certainly part of the discussion.”

    BizTimes: Do you think you need more details on a plan for a new arena to get public buy-in?

    Sheehy: “You need a lot more detail. For people to buy into any kind of public support for a new or remodeled downtown entertainment center, they are going to want to know what the economic impact is, what the value proposition is to that, what the proposal is, where it’s going to be located, what it’s going to look like. All of those are critical factors that need to be vetted publicly I think before anybody is going to get the full picture of what they are investing in or what they are being asked to invest in.”

    BizTimes: So is this the beginning of the process of creating a plan?

    Sheehy: “It is. It’s going to be incumbent upon those that really support a new or remodeled downtown entertainment facility to bring that case to the task force. For those that support a new capital investment in the Zoo to bring that case to the task force. Same thing with the (Milwaukee Public) Museum. I view the task force as a public vetting of the needs of these institutions as well as their value proposition so this task force can in a very open fashion assess the cost and the benefit of an investment in these institutions and what they bring to this community in terms of its livability.”

    BizTimes: Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has consistently said that if there is a public financing piece of this, it must be regional. But the Ozaukee and Racine county boards have said they oppose a tax on their county for a downtown Milwaukee arena. How challenging is it going to be to get regional support?

    Sheehy: “The community is going to benefit in a very healthy way from this discussion about what are our assets and how do we support those assets. This is a discussion that has to catch up with the reality of where the region’s economy is today. If you look at Waukesha County, 51 percent of the county’s workforce works outside of Waukesha County. Sixty-three percent of Washington County’s workforce works outside of Washington County. Sixty-five percent of Ozaukee County’s workforce works outside of Ozaukee County. In Milwaukee County only 28 percent of its workforce works outside of Milwaukee County. The point to those statistics is we have an economy based on where people work that is regional. What we don’t have is a way to fund the quality of life assets that we all benefit from on a regional basis. I believe this is a place where the discussions of the task force will benefit and raise an awareness that I don’t think exists among the citizens of this community about where they live, work and play and what makes up that value proposition.”

    BizTimes: Are you going to need to include entertainment and cultural assets from outside of Milwaukee County to get support for a regional tax from communities outside of Milwaukee County?

    Sheehy: “It could (be necessary). If there is any support for an increment in the tax on a regional basis, a significant amount of that increment is going to have to stay in the county from which it is raised. I would think that would be a tenant that most communities would hold pretty tightly to: if we see our way towards supporting a regional revenue source, a majority of that stays in the county in which it is raised and some portion is contributed to assets that are deemed regional and happen to be outside of the county in which the revenue was raised.”

    BizTimes: Do you feel there is an adequate amount of leadership on this issue? It seems like you and the MMAC have really taken the leadership on this, and there’s not much political leadership driving any of this. Is that a concern?

    Sheehy: “I think that public leadership will be there when we need it. The elected officials are paid to pay attention to their corner of the sandbox. What we have to recognize is if we’re going to get more sand in the sandbox we have to play together. That is going to be an important part of this discussion.”

    BizTimes: What do you hear from your members about this?

    Sheehy: “I think the reaction is mixed. Some think that this is a no-brainer. We should get on with it. I think others don’t have enough information, and I think some are skeptical that we should be putting public resources into any of these institutions that they should stand on their own merits. One thing that we want to do is make sure that we don’t make a decision by indecision that we don’t make these decision by mistake and if we decide we are not going to fund a new downtown entertainment facility or we are not going to support the zoo or we are not going to support a public museum then let’s make those decisions thoughtfully. Let’s not have that creep up on us because of indecision or because we made a mistake.”

    Sign up for BizTimes Daily Alerts

    Stay up-to-date on the people, companies and issues that impact business in Milwaukee and Southeast Wisconsin

    No posts to display