Wisconsin cities court Milwaukee Bucks’ Development League team

[PHOTO GALLERIES]

A rendering of the planned renovation of the Sheboygan Armory.

Last month, The Milwaukee Bucks broke ground on a new $500 million arena while simultaneously solidifying the team’s commitment to the State of Wisconsin for the next 30 years.

To sustain and maintain the growth that comes with that commitment, Bucks general manager John Hammond has publicly confirmed his desire to have a Bucks Development League team in place by fall 2017.

NEWS-La_Crosse_Center
The La Crosse Center, former home of the CBA Bobcats and Catbirds, could host the Bucks’ D-League team.

At least six cities across the state have expressed some interest in hosting the Bucks’ future D-League team.

Sheboygan, Oshkosh and La Crosse have submitted formal proposals to the Bucks. Green Bay economic development director Kevin Vonck confirmed that Green Bay did have interest in the team, but had not submitted a formal proposal at the time of this publication. And reports indicate there were, at the very least, conversations between the Bucks and the city of Racine and town of Grand Chute.

Officials from Racine and Grand Chute did not return requests for comment.

Sheboygan, La Crosse and Oshkosh were previously home to National Basketball League and Continental Basketball Association teams, further making the case for Wisconsin’s storied sports history and a returning fan base.

Wolf
Wolf

Joe Wolf, Kohler native and former NBA player and Bucks assistant coach, is leading the initiative in Sheboygan as head of the Lakefront Jewel Group.

Their plan is to renovate the 52,000-square-foot Sheboygan Armory, former home to the Sheboygan Red Skins NBL and NBA team. The Armory was constructed in 1942, but the bones of the structure are solid, and the renovations will once again make the virtually abandoned facility world-class, Wolf said.

“The Armory is a special place,” he added. “There’s a lot of historic charm, and the lakefront and the community is a draw for a whole new generation of fans.”

According to Wolf, the cost of the renovation is still being determined, but Lakefront Jewel Group is already in the process of raising the funds privately, through community members and corporations.

Wolf estimates there is a population of approximately 1.4 million within 50 miles of Sheboygan the group could draw upon for a fan base.

Similarly, the La Crosse Center, former home of the CBA Bobcats and Catbirds, has submitted a proposal for the team to anchor that pre-existing facility.

“We’re confident we can deliver everything the Bucks are looking for,” said Art Fahey, director of the La Crosse Center.

The Center is currently used for concerts, conventions, banquets, meetings and trade shows.  The arena in the facility can seat 6,100 people, and the D-League team would be considered the anchor tenant of the facility, Fahey said.

While the team can use the facility “as-is,” the Center is also on the verge of a $35 million facility upgrade.

The renovations, funded with city, state and grant dollars, should be underway in about a year, he said.

Windward Wealth Strategies is leading the initiative in Oshkosh, where its company Fox Valley Professional Basketball LLC’s proposal includes construction of a brand new multi-use facility for the team.

Pierce
Pierce

According to Greg Pierce, president of Windward, the group has secured several potential site locations and has garnered letters of support from the City of Oshkosh, as well as “every major business” in the community.

Windward plans to spend approximately $4 million of private funds to construct a 3,500-seat arena and practice facility, which would be available for community use as well.

“We can be ready by November 2017,” Pierce said. “Once the Bucks make a decision, we can begin the process. If we’re moving dirt by March 2017 or before, we’re confident we can complete the construction before the 2017-’18 Development League season.”

Windward has also “pre-sold” season tickets to a significant number of fans and submitted those numbers as part of its proposal.

While it’s too early to tell what type of economic impact the Development League team would have on any one community, certainly jobs would be created and dollars would be spent.

Sports and event travel is one of Wisconsin’s fastest-growing markets and plays an important role in Wisconsin’s tourism economy, said Stephanie Klett, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

“We know from experience that sports marketing is successful in any economic environment because people are passionate about their teams,” she said.

“Communities across Wisconsin are investing in sports travel, whether it’s hosting an amateur sporting event or building a stadium for a professional basketball team.”

Bucks officials continue to be vague regarding the timeline for a decision, but did confirm the deadline for submitting new proposals had passed.

“It is still early in the process and we are gathering all the facts necessary to make an informed decision about where this new team would be located,” Bucks officials said in a statement. “While there is no immediate timetable for an announcement, we are excited to learn more about the cities throughout the region that have expressed an interest in welcoming the Bucks’ D-League affiliate to their community.”

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