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Will Milwaukee get a streetcar?
Will Milwaukee get a streetcar?

These political decisions will have major consequences

If it seems like so many public policy decisions are hanging fire in Wisconsin these days, it’s only because they are.

And so many of these loose ends seem to be intertwined and interdependent.

Let’s start with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Will he run for president? By hiring a national campaign consultant, making frequent trips to states such as Iowa and Florida and jetting around to meet with wealthy donors, it sure looks that way. And if he does run for president, will he resign as governor?

Before we get to that decision, will Walker approve the proposed Kenosha casino? It stands to reason that his decision there will be filtered through his presidential campaign lens. His decision on the casino must be made by Feb. 19. Walker has said he wants no net gain in gambling in Wisconsin. Yet, conservative talk radio noise is chiding him to approve the Kenosha project and the jobs it would create.

Meanwhile, which Downtown site will the Milwaukee Bucks select as their preferred venue for a new arena? Once that decision is announced, how will the public financing for the new arena be generated? Again, will Walker be willing to support that financing?

Will the City of Milwaukee get permission to develop its proposed downtown streetcar system? As opponents scramble to gain enough signatures to force a referendum on the proposal, sources have told me that some key out-state Republican legislators are questioning why Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett needs public financing for the new arena while at the same time he wants to commit public financing for the streetcar system. Meanwhile, critics among the Milwaukee African American community contend that the streetcar system will not serve the inner city.

But wait. If the arena becomes the priority at the expense of the streetcar, then that could endanger the feasibility of the Couture, the $122 million, 44-story apartment building proposed for Milwaukee’s lakefront. The Barrett administration has intertwined the streetcar…

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The Common Council will vote on the Milwaukee streetcar in January.
The Common Council will vote on the Milwaukee streetcar in January.

Cincinnati's familiar streetcar saga

As the legal slog to develop a new streetcar system in Downtown Milwaukee continues to play out in court, in City Hall and at the Wisconsin Public Service Commission, proponents and opponents alike would do well to keep an eye on Cincinnati.

"More than any project in decades, the streetcar kerfuffle has fueled unending drama and controversy: a symbol of progress for proponents and of profligate spending for detractors."

That quote did not come from Milwaukee, although it would certainly apply. It came from a blog written by Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld earlier this year. Sittenfeld was referring a seven-year debate over a proposed $133 million streetcar system in downtown Cincinnati.

I’ll let Sittenfeld take the Cincinnati story from there…

"The saga began when the mayor and city council set the 3.6-mile project in motion, only to have a right-wing anti-tax group gather signatures for a ballot measure to stop the streetcar from being built.

"Voters rejected the measure; the streetcar survived. Next, then-newly elected Gov. John Kasich yanked $52 million of previously committed state funding from the project, and significantly altered the streetcar's route and viability.

"The following year found the same anti-tax group putting yet another measure on the ballot to halt the streetcar – only to have citizens again vote, albeit by a narrow margin, for the project to go forward. The impasse continued ... and continued ... and continued. Then, in November of 2013, a new mayor was elected in a campaign centered around cancelling the streetcar."

However, at that point, construction of the streetcar system was well underway.

"The final fate of the project came to a head just before Christmas of 2013, facing a do-or-die funding deadline from the federal government. In soap opera-like fashion, only hours before the deadline, the project survived with just enough votes to overcome a mayoral veto," Sittenfeld said.

"Three Council members – myself …

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Reed Hall is awaiting a reappointment from Gov. Scott Walker.
Reed Hall is awaiting a reappointment from Gov. Scott Walker.

Hall brings stability to WEDC

If asked to return for another term as secretary and chief executive officer of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., Reed Hall says he would be honored to serve again.

Like other cabinet members, Hall is awaiting an announcement soon about Gov. Scott Walker’s cabinet appointments for his second term. Walker, a Republican, was re-elected on Nov. 4, defeating Democratic challenger Mary Burke.

"I understand that protocol is that the Governor has to reappoint us to our positions. If asked, I intend to continue to serve but I do need to be mindful of protocol. In response to your question, no I have not heard if the governor wishes me to stay on," Hall said.

Laurel Patrick, Walker’s press secretary, said in an e-mail, "Any announcement about changes to Governor Walker’s cabinet agency teams will be made when we have details to share."

Hall, who had retired as the executive director of the Marshfield Clinic in 2010, was brought in by Walker to stabilize the agency that was in turmoil as Walker transformed it from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce to the WEDC.

The transition was not without drama or turmoil.

Paula Jadin, Walker’s original commerce secretary, resigned in September of 2012 to become the new president of Thrive, which seeks to improve the economy of the Madison era.

The agency was often criticized for questionable loans and grants to private businesses and for not holding the recipients of that state aid accountable for jobs they had promised to create.

Under the leadership of Hall and his public information manager, former journalist Mark Maley, the WEDC has become far more transparent about how it operates and the status of its economic development initiatives. The information is available to the public at www.inwisconsin.com. In addition to full disclosure of its operations plan for fiscal 2015, the agency published its "Annual Report on Economic Development." The WEDC’s board meetings are open and accessible to the public. The web …

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Steve Jagler nominates the old U.S. Postal Center for a potential new arena destination.
Steve Jagler nominates the old U.S. Postal Center for a potential new arena destination. (Photo: Colton Dunham)

Replace Downtown post office with new arena

In recent years, the Milwaukee Bucks have not had much to celebrate when they’ve conducted their annual preview luncheon with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

This year, however, there was a tangible buzz in the room at the event, which was held at the Harley-Davidson Museum. With a new ownership team, new head coach Jason Kidd, new front-office staff and the first-round draft selection of Jabari Parker, the realization of a new era was readily apparent.

The only question now is will it be the final era of the Milwaukee Bucks? The team is on the clock with the NBA, which says the Bucks must get a new arena built by 2017 to keep the team in Milwaukee.

Peter Feigin, newly appointed team president, went from table to table at the luncheon, introducing himself to members of the Milwaukee business community.

Businesses large and small can expect to hear from Feigin and his staff soon. Feigin said the typical NBA team sells 68 percent of its season tickets to businesses. In Milwaukee, businesses comprise just 15 to 17 percent of the team’s season ticket base.

"I promise you, we will give you a reason to change that," Feigin said.

Feigin brings a depth of experience in both the NBA and the corporate world to the Bucks. As the chief marketing and revenue officer of Deluxe Entertainment Services Group, he managed global business units and handled branding across the international entertainment company. Prior to working at Deluxe, Feigin was president and chief operating officer of Marquis Jet Partners and helped lead its acquisition by NetJets.

From 1998 to 2004, he worked for the New York Knicks and rose to become vice president of marketing – increasing profits, season subscriptions and suite revenue during his tenure. Additionally, Feigin has served as a senior advisor to the Milwaukee Bucks since Wes Edens and Marc Lasry acquired the Bucks from former owner Herb Kohl.

Feigin said he was aware that the media and the public are clamoring to…

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