Task Force estimates cultural assets need $445 million over next 20 years

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:15 pm

Funding a new arena, completing deferred maintenance and making capital improvements to the Milwaukee region’s cultural assets will cost about $445 million, according to the Cultural & Entertainment Capital Needs Task Force.

Jay Williams, a Task Force co-chair, laid out the potential uses and annual funds required for the Milwaukee Art Museum/War Memorial, Milwaukee Public Museum, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts and the Milwaukee County Zoo in a report at its meeting Monday morning at the Milwaukee Public Museum. The figures included estimates from a Public Policy Forum report about the issue.

The costs average out to $33.9 million in annual funds each year for the next two decades.

Deferred maintenance costs are expected to require a $105 million investment over the next 20 years. Among the deferred maintenance costs awaiting funding: replacement of exterior windows at MAM, modernizing the Marcus Center’s Todd Wehr Theater elevator and upgrading the fire alarm system at MPM.

Capital improvements will require about $140 million. The funds would be used for projects including: a new entrance and bus turnaround at MPM, a renovation of Vogel Hall at the Marcus Center, reinstallation of collections at MAM and new hippo and sea lion exhibits at the zoo.

A new downtown arena would cost an estimated $500 million, with $300 million of that expected from the new Milwaukee Bucks owners, minority owners and private contributions, the Task Force said. That means about 40 percent of the project would be publicly financed.

The Task Force pointed out that this is far less public financing than has been required for other recent urban arenas nationwide. A Marquette University Law School study found that of for 23 arenas constructed between 1995 and 2016, the average share of public financing was more than 70 percent.

The figures all assume a 4.25 percent borrowing rate, level payments over 20 years and general obligation debt.

Williams compared the annual cost of $33.9 million to other annual spending for programs in Milwaukee. Miller Park, for example, costs $26.8 million each year, while $261 million is spent on county transportation (airport, highways and transit) and $1.98 billion is spent on Milwaukee County schools (all Milwaukee Public Schools, charter, choice and Milwaukee County suburban schools).

The Task Force also evaluated potential sources of funds. Among those proposed: a consumption tax on beer, liquor and cigarettes for the four county metro area; Tax Incremental Financing (TIF), where future gains in taxes are used to subsidize current improvements in a particular geographic area; a ticket tax for all paid attendees, regardless of county of residence or ticket purchase location; and an increased sales tax.

Task Force members discussed the options in small groups and shared their questions about the options with those gathered at the public meeting. The Task Force will continue to gather questions and provide information for a couple of weeks and reconvene on Oct. 14 to compile a report on its findings.

“The next phase is really to move into the visioning,” Williams said. “The critical thing going forward is…once we move into the next phase…we do have to do some sophisticated polling to understand what’s possible. We’ve got a lot of good people putting visions together, but we’ve got to have a vision we can all get behind.”

Two public listening sessions regarding the options will be held, following the meeting on Oct. 14, from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., and on Oct. 16 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.

After it has released its report in December, the Task Force plans to disband.

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