Calling the new NBA arena a “dynamic attraction for the entire state of Wisconsin,” Walker signed the bill at the Wisconsin State Fair Park surrounded by state lawmakers, local officials and Bucks team president Peter Feigin. “This is a good deal overall,” Walker said before signing the bill, which allayed concerns that the NBA would move the team to Las Vegas or Seattle without a new arena.
That arena deal is not yet in place, even though Bucks owners have promised $150 million and Kohl pledged $100 million, and they’re counting on state, city and county government to contribute the remaining half for a $500 million downtown arena. But getting public funding for pro sports buildings is a drawn-out political process, difficult to navigate and not always popular. Team executives are more than hopeful a new arena will be built, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently said he is confident an arena deal will be reached. Last week, the Bucks released an artist’s renderings of all-purpose arena in a new sports and entertainment district. No site has been chosen for the arena, but there is available land north of the Bradley Center. It’s a logical location.
The Bucks would like the funding package in place this summer and a shovel in the ground in September or October. Ownership has added local minority partners, and earlier this year the Bucks staff moved into new offices at Schlitz Park. It is a modern, wide-open office space to accommodate additional hires, adding new jobs mostly in ticket sales but also to marketing and communications departments. They are moving forward under the idea that a new arena will be built.
“If the state comes in at $150 million, the deal is dead, and the Bucks will move,” city alderman Bob Bauman told Milwaukee Magazine this week. The arena would be in his district. “The gap is too big.” Meanwhile, a poll released this week by Marquette University Law School was bleak for the Bucks. Nearly 80 percent of the respondents didn’t favor public funding for the arena even though the current plan includes no new taxes. In Milwaukee itself, 67 percent of those polled were against giving the Bucks public money. As for Walker, who is a strong supporter of the arena construction plan, his approval ratings have dropped over the past several months. As he’s about to run for president, he now has a 41 percent approval rating in his home state.
Former Bucks center Larry Sanders was in Milwaukee this week and, according to some individuals close to him, he still doesn’t have any desire to play professional basketball again. The Bucks bought out the beleaguered center’s contract and will be paying him just under $3 million a year for the next seven years.