Potawatomi Hotel and Casino will be the naming sponsor of the Milwaukee streetcar system as part of a $10 million, 12-year deal announced Friday at the Milwaukee Public Market.
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The city and the Forest County Potawatomi community are yet to sign the official deal, but a letter of intent will be inked in the near future, followed by a full contract.
The public announcement also gave the streetcar a new name -- The Hop -- and a clearer source of funding for operations once construction is complete.
Ghassan Korban, city of Milwaukee commissioner public works, said the agreement came together over about a month and a half and was the result of the Potawatomi answering the city's call for sponsors.
“As Wisconsin’s most visited entertainment destination, we see the streetcar as just one more way to make Milwaukee an attractive place to live, work, play and do business,” said Rodney Ferguson, Potawatomi Hotel and Casino chief executive officer. “We are proud to have our brand aligned with The Hop streetcar brand.”
Additional branding elements, including vehicles, signage and a website will be rolled out in early 2018 and the city's first streetcar line is scheduled to be operational in the fall of 2018
The Potawatomi sponsorship will allow the city to offer unlimited free rides for the first 12 months of the streetcar’s operation. Combined with a federal congestion mitigation and air quality grant, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said the first three years of the streetcar’s roughly $3.5 million in annual operating costs “are essentially covered.”
“It gives us a huge shot in the arm and allows us to move forward with the operating costs that we know will accelerate in year four,” Barrett told reporters. “This is not the end of it, we’re looking and talking to other potential sponsors and businesses who really see the value of it.”
Downtown Ald. Robert Bauman, a major supporter of the streetcar, said the announcement should end the politics that have surrounded the project, whether it comes from state or local opponents.
“I suspect that once and for all, and I may be optimistic, but once and for all, the politics have left this project because there’s nothing to complain about anymore,” Bauman said.
But Barrett said the streetcar would likely always have its critics.
“I don’t think the politics will ever end on this issue. I think that people love to rally around this issue for one reason or another,” Barrett said. “They’re going to have to find something else to be critical of.”
Potawatomi is sponsoring the streetcar, even though it will not run past or near the casino. Barrett said the deal with the Potawatomi did not come with any guarantee that a future extension of the streetcar lines would go out to the casino.
“There have been no assurances whatsoever,” Barrett said.