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Civic and community leaders in Milwaukee need to develop a plan to maintain the quality of the region’s top cultural and entertainment institutions in order keep the area competitive with other cities such as Cleveland, Oklahoma City and Denver for jobs and talent, according to Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

“We have some strong institutions here, the PAC (Marcus Center for the Performing Arts), the Public Museum, the Art Museum, the Zoo, the downtown entertainment center (BMO Harris Bradley Center),” Sheehy said. “But in some cases we have significantly underinvested in those institutions. They have growing capital and maintenance needs. We do not have a viable strategy to pass these institutions on to the next generation.”

The most pressing quality of life issue for Milwaukee is the need for a new arena. The NBA says the BMO Harris Bradley Center, built in 1988, is no longer adequate, and a new arena must be built in the city in order for the Bucks to remain in Milwaukee.

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The new arena needs to have additional revenue-producing amenities. Revenue sharing under the NBA’s newest collective bargaining agreement has been a financial boon to the Bucks, but the other franchises that are sharing their revenues with the Bucks expect the Milwaukee franchise to do all it can to maximize its revenue.

New Bucks owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens have pledged $100 million toward the cost of a new arena, and former owner Herb Kohl has also pledged $100 million. The sale of the naming rights might attract another $50 million. However, the total cost is expected to be $400 million to $500 million, leaving a significant gap of funding.

Lasry and Edens have indicated that some public assistance will be necessary to build a new arena for the Bucks, but no plan has been presented.

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“I’m 100 percent certain there will be a gap between the private sector contribution and the total cost (of a new arena),” Sheehy said.

If a new arena is not built and the Bucks leave Milwaukee, the community will face another problem: how to keep the Bradley Center viable without an anchor revenue-producing tenant as it continues to age and needs more repair and maintenance.

The Bradley Center is a state-owned facility. In addition to the Bucks, the facility is the home for the Marquette University Men’s Basketball Team, the Milwaukee Admirals hockey team, concerts and numerous other events.

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“You can’t look at the Bradley Center as a problem for someone else to fix,” Sheehy said. “It’s our problem. We have to fix it if you want to have a functioning entertainment center.”

However, the arena is just one of many cultural and entertainment institutions that Milwaukee must figure out how to support in order for the city to remain economically competitive with other regions.

“If we don’t figure it out, we are going to fall further behind those regions that are investing in their cultural and entertainment assets,” Sheehy said.

“The war for economic development is all about talent,” said Roy Williams, president and chief executive officer of the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber. “Talent drives site selection (for businesses). If you’re going to attract talent, they need to enjoy the place they live when they get off of work.”

Milwaukee is competing with those and other major metro areas around the world to attract talent, jobs and economic development, not to mention investing in the quality of life and a “Major League” brand, Sheehy said.

“There is a global competition for capital and talent,” Sheehy said. “Capital and talent are both highly mobile. They are going to be attracted to urban areas that are highly livable places.”

Meanwhile, other important but aging cultural and entertainment institutions, including the Milwaukee County Zoo and the Milwaukee Public Museum, have growing capital needs with no clear funding source to meet them.

In the 1940s, civic leaders formed the Greater Milwaukee Committee and urged the city to build several quality of life projects. From 1950 to 1967, the Milwaukee Arena, Milwaukee County Stadium, Milwaukee County War Memorial and Milwaukee Art Museum, the Milwaukee Public Museum, Mitchell Park Domes and the current Milwaukee County Zoo were all built.

Few major civic projects have been built in Milwaukee in recent years. Miller Park and the Santiago Calatrava-designed addition to the Milwaukee Art Museum were completed in 2001. Discovery World’s lakefront location was built in 2006.

In today’s highly charged political climate, there is little public support for spending taxpayer money on non-essential projects such as stadiums and museums. However, Sheehy says Milwaukee’s economic future depends upon the city’s ability to offer a high quality of life that attracts talent.

“We’re trying to make Milwaukee as attractive as it can be for a talented workforce because that is the biggest driver of our economic prosperity,” he said. “Our goal is to show Milwaukee what three other comparable metro areas have done to make their regions more attractive by coming up with a strategy to invest in their cultural and entertainment assets. They’ve all created a shared vision for their future. They’ve all developed a strategy to invest public dollars in those institutions, and they’ve all executed on a strategy.”

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