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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Herb Kohl welcomes Wes Edens as one of the new owners of the Milwaukee Bucks. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

Reaction to Bucks' big day leaves something to be desired

The dust has kind of settled on the Earth-shattering events of last week that resulted, when you clear away all the crap, of almost $1 billion being moved around our city.

That's billion. With a "B." Not an everyday kind of thing around here.

We all know what happened. Herb Kohl sold his basketball team. Bang, $550 million. Then Kohl said he would donate $100 million to the building of a new arena. Then the two new owners pledged at least $100 million for the new facility.

I don't want to debate what all of this means or what the future holds. What I want to talk about is how Milwaukee reacted to these developments.

I think it says a lot about our city.

Let's start with the business community that seemed almost unanimous in joy.

Two men who I know well and respect a lot, Tim Sheehy, head of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce and Marc Marotta, head of the Bradley Center board, led the parade. Both are articulate men who have devoted their lives to improving the quality of life for everyone in Milwaukee. I may not always agree with their politics, but I have never questioned their commitments.

They speak pretty much for most of the business community and they welcomed these events with open arms and a "new day for Milwaukee" chorus.

Even though it's hard to fathom, there are people who weren't overjoyed with the announcement. And their reactions were prompted by myriad reasons.

Members of the chattering class managed to embrace the "two hand" reaction. You know, "on one hand this is nice, but on the other hand…."

I heard one talk radio host say that the only way the new owners could "prove they had the cojones to play in the big leagues was if they would fire John Hammond and Larry Drew."

Sports talk radio would not exist if the people who do it had to actually like something. They thrive and make names for themselves by embracing the negative.

Then there are the "not one penny of our money" people.

Then you have some of the political and community rhetoric. Sure, some politicians got on board, but some of them weren't about to get hooked into this without making a semi-stink.

Let's start with my very own alderman, Nik Kovac. His Facebook page was alive over the weekend with discussions of what really ought to happen.

"I want the Bucks to stay in Milwaukee and I think the public should be willing to invest in keeping them here," he said in getting things started. "But when we make that investment we should be guaranteed more than just a few more decades of being an NBA town: we should also be guaranteed an actual return on our investment."

"There would be multiple ways to do it," he added. "They could simply guarantee a fair annual payment that would cover our debt amortization. Or they could give us a piece of the team that we could earn dividends from and then profit from upon a future resale."

Now that would be something to look forward to, making the Milwaukee Common Council a part owner of the team. If you want a feel for what Kovac and his friends think, here is a link to his Facebook page and you can just scroll down until you find the whole conversation with almost 40 people chiming in.

Taking Kovac's position to a new extreme was a group called Common Ground that said it would oppose any public funds for a new arena unless $150 million to $250 million is allocated to improve athletic facilities, playgrounds and recreational spaces in Milwaukee County public schools.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on a briefing sheet for the organization that said the task force (on the new entertainment district) "on which we serve is not the 'power table' where decisions will be made on the financing mechanism for a new Bucks arena."

"In order to move Common Ground closer to the 'power table' we need to show our commitment to leveraging $150-$250 million for Milwaukee County children to the people who will make the decision about what projects will be included in the potential nonpartisan tax increase."

I don't really think that all these ideas are going to prevail in the end. I think there are enough people with common sense who know the value of having an NBA team in your city and who understand that a sparkling new arena will be another piece of gloss that will help raise our national profile.

Here's what bothers me about some of this reaction.

Sure, we need more money for schools and for infrastructure and for job training and for all sorts of things. But this isn't a case of "if I give you this we won't have anything for that." What every project needs to be is evaluated on its own merits.

And if you evaluate a new arena on its own merits, on whether it's a good thing for this city or not, there is truly only one answer to that.

I truly believe Milwaukee is on the way up and that momentum is a wonderful thing. I'd hate to see the momentum halted by small minds and picky people.


mikeb | April 23, 2014 at 6:32 a.m. (report)

One of the biggest mistakes in this article is the Dave believes that Marc Marotta and Tim Sheehy speak for the business community. That's simply not true. They speak for a very small amount of businesses out there. If any of the business publications (BizTimes or Business Journal) or even the good people at OnMilwaukee would get outside their comfort zone and talk to a good cross section of business owners in the County about this they'd find that almost no one has given this issue much thought or cares all that much about it. Instead, the assumption is that Marotta, Sheehy, Gary Grunau, Julia Taylor and a bunch of other non-profit sorts speak for the business community and therefore all of us business owners are clamoring for a new arena.

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AndrewJ | April 22, 2014 at 9:29 a.m. (report)

We'll find out what the new Bucks ownerships commitment is to actually keeping the team here real quick. With that NBA imposed 2017 deadline for an arena, if they don't hit the ground running on that starting yesterday, they're behind schedule. Absolutely NOTHING that big gets done in Milwaukee in 3 years. You could have $600 million privately donated for a new arena, and the city leadership would find a way to booger it up with building restrictions, zoning, environmental impact studies, etc. Every Tom, Marina, and Coggs would come running looking to fill their already stuffed pockets. I wish them luck... definitely want to see the Bucks stay in Milwaukee.

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Photodavie | April 22, 2014 at 7:56 a.m. (report)

Contract with NBA states that if a new arena is not built by 2017 the NBA can buy the team back and do whatever it wants with it. Same thing happened to the Charlotte Hornets. NBA immediately moved the team to OKC. Enjoy the Bucks for another 3 seasons, because there is no way this town ponies up $300+ million to build a new stadium when we already have 2 downtown. It's time for the Bucks to go elsewhere. Seattle????

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