By Ariele Vaccaro
During an informational public hearing at the state’s capitol Monday on the prospect of a new arena, lawmakers expressed wariness of the project’s funding, potential for success, and arena maintenance. Amid concerns, Bucks
President Peter Feigin urged the lawmakers to make up their minds and move legislation on the arena quickly for fear of the NBA selling the team and relocating it to Las Vegas or Seattle.
The Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) listened to a number of players in the possible deal, including Bucks
President Peter Feigin, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele. However, a representative from the Wisconsin Center District, where the arena would go up, was denied the opportunity to speak by JFC Co-Chair and State Senator Alberta Darling (R – River Hills).
A new proposal for arena funding by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) garnered approval from Darling, but raised an extensive line of questioning from other members of the JFC.
The LFB’s proposal differed from Governor Scott Walker’s, in that it would require no state bonding. Rather, the
Wisconsin Center District would take up bonds, and would not begin to make payments back until 13 years after the construction of the arena, with interest accruing over that time.
“It’s less of a state commitment,” said Al Runde, supervising fiscal analyst at LFB. Under the LFB’s proposal, the state would only have to contribute $90 million, rather than the $488 million that Walker’s plan cited.
However, that would leave Wisconsin Center District to pay back about $93 million in bonds, according to Runde.
Senator Lena Taylor (D – Milwaukee) showed instant caution at the proposal. She asked that the JFC hear the district speak on the subject.
Darling rejected Taylor’s request, suggesting that the district had not been invited to speak at the hearing.
Taylor offered that LFB could be “potentially setting the Center District up for failure.”
The Wisconsin Center District wouldn’t be the only body paying for the arena, however.
Debts would be paid off by taxpayers and by the city via debts collected from private parties, which Taylor worried would disproportionally affect low-income Milwaukee residents.
“I think it would be extremely ill-advised to go forward with this,” without public input, suggested Representative Chris Taylor (D – Madison) worried that there wouldn’t be enough feedback before voting on the legislation.
LFB’s plan saddles the Bucks with the costs of maintenance and the demolition of the Bradley Center, regardless of whether or not the team stays for the entirety of its lease.
Darling endorsed this prospect, and argued that left taxpayers with less financial risk.
Fellow Republican Representative Dean Knudson (R – Hudson) didn’t share that outlook, offering a “no” vote to the proposal.
He suggested that that a lawsuit could arise against the state in the event that the Bucks relocate and do not maintain the arena.
Bucks President Peter Feigin testified for the new arena, noting that it would have a number of “ancillary” uses and perform as a multi-purpose facility where Milwaukee residents could “work, play, and live”, rather than be used exclusively for sports and entertainment events.
The arena would be modeled after the format of other recently constructed arenas like Minneapolis’ nearly complete football stadium for the Vikings.
He stressed that if construction does not begin this year, the NBA could take the team back and relocate it.
“We can’t wait months, even weeks to start the public process,” said Feigin.
Knudson was not won over.
“It’s all just kind of hocus-pocus,” he said, criticizing the Bucks for using “fuzzy math” in their projections.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett faced questions regarding the city’s ability to handle both a new arena and a streetcar.
“I think we can chew gum and walk at the same time,” said Barrett.
Both Barrett and John Koskinen of the Department of Revenue pointed out that media and licensing rights would create a revenue stream with arms all over the world.
The Bucks currently play at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.