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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, Oct. 20, 2014

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What's needed to build support for a new NBA arena?
What's needed to build support for a new NBA arena?

Arena needs public champions to get it done

The Milwaukee Cultural and Entertainment Capital Needs Task Force today conducted a discussion featuring business leaders from Oklahoma City, Denver and Cleveland, who shared insights about how their communities rallied to build public support to build NBA arenas and invest in other cultural and mass transit infrastructure projects.

The featured speakers were: Roy Williams, president of Greater Oklahoma City Chamber; Kelly Brough, president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and Joseph Roman, president of the Greater Cleveland Partnership.

After the discussion, the speakers told BizTimes that it is critical for key publicly elected officials to be champions for public investments in entertainment and cultural assets such as a new arena.

"It’s critical because they have constituents," Williams said.

"We had governors who were very supportive," Roman said.

"The public sector has to part of it," Brough said.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele did not attend today’s meeting.

Aside from lacking a vocal public champion, the Milwaukee initiative faces one other headwind that the other markets did not: The perception that local talk radio hosts, who scream every time the words "mass transit," "trains" or "new taxes" are even whispered, can disproportionately dominate the public discourse.

"People, they hear all that clutter, and they think that reflects the masses, but it doesn’t," Williams said. "Just let it go, because the next bloody accident will take over their show. We go around them to the people."

"We go to the people who vote," Roman said.

Fifty years from now, people in Milwaukee will be assessing the legacy their forefathers left them, Roman said.

"That’s you. That’s us," Roman said.

BizTimes conducted in-depth interviews with Williams, Brough and Roman in advance of today’s forum to document how Oklahoma City, Denver and Cleveland have invested in their cultural assets and examine the lessons that could be learned for Milwaukee. The report will be the cover story of the July 11 issue of BizTimes Milwaukee magazine.

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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