The new owners of the Milwaukee Bucks, Wes Edens and Marc Lasry, made the public rounds in Milwaukee late last week, meeting organizational staff, visiting major sponsors, and touring media outlets while getting their feet wet within the community and promoting Bucks basketball.
The pair made a quieter visit to the city prior to that, however, taking a look at potential sites for a new arena.
"We drove around Downtown – it was snowing that day – a few weeks ago," Edens told a media gathering at the Cousins Center last week. "So, we’ve just started with it. Something Downtown I’m sure is going to be the right answer. Right in that whole nucleus and we’ll try and figure that out."
When they were announced as the prospective owners of the franchise in mid-April, outgoing owner Herb Kohl announced a gift of $100 million to the project, and Edens and Lasry promised "at least" another $100 million toward it.
It’s a substantial downpayment on the project, but perhaps more money is expected to come in by way of local investors.
"That’s really going to kick off in high gear now," Edens said about the arena project. "I think that we’re going to meet with a number of the big design firms and get their views about it, try and take what they would tell us, their thoughts about it.
"I think with that you can take the best ideas and try and synthesize that all together to one big product and then it’ll be a matter of just figuring out how to pay for it."
Milwaukee Brewers principal owner Mark Attanasio told the Business Journal, "I wouldn't rule out financial support" for a new arena, and Marcus Corporation chairman of the board Steve Marcus told OnMilwaukee.com that while no one has asked if he would be willing to invest, "if they did, obviously we would take a look at it for sure."
Much attention has been paid to potential local investors of the BMO Harris Bradley Center's largest tenant, but they are not the only ones.
Should the Bucks leave, the future of the Milwaukee Admirals and Marquette University playing Downtown would be clouded.
New Marquette University president Dr. Michael Lovell is focusing on his transition into the role and declined an interview for this story, but the only options on the table for the university seem to be to maintain the BMO Harris Bradley Center with the Admirals (and perhaps other, new tenants); share billing with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in a smaller venue across the street, or spend upwards of over $100 million to construct its own building.
"The recent news involving the Milwaukee Bucks is promising for the city, region and state," Marquette University said in a statement issued to OnMilwaukee.com.
"The future of professional basketball and the BMO Harris Bradley Center is an important issue for our entire community. We appreciate the leadership of Sen. Kohl and the new owners in making a significant investment in the team and a new arena. We look forward to our continued partnership with the BMO Harris Bradley Center and our further involvement in the Cultural and Entertainment Capital Needs Task Force."
Admirals owner Harris Turer is also keeping a very close eye on how the arena debate, and design, progresses.
Turer told OnMilwaukee.com he has not been approached, officially, about either contributing to a new arena or even being welcomed into it as a tenant.
"I hope that we would be part of a new facility if a new facility does come to fruition," Turer said. "I have not had that discussion with the powers that be that say, absolutely, there will be ice in it. Do I believe there will be? People have hinted at it, that yes, it’s very likely, yes. But once you add ice, that’s an expensive addition. It doesn’t just happen. You don’t just throw some water out and it freezes because it’s a little bit colder in the building. There’s a lot of expense that goes into having a facility that has ice.
"So, until I have that assurance that’s going to happen I don’t know 100 percent. If I had to bet, I would say, yes, I think we’ll be a part of it."
Like Attanasio and Marcus, Turer said he would be willing to discuss contributing private dollars "when the time comes."
Regardless of how many private dollars are committed, some public financing will likely be required to make up the difference in the bill, and thus keep the NBA in Milwaukee.
Shortly after Edens and Lasry were named as prospective owners, it was reported that there was a safeguard worked into the deal – the NBA would buy back the team from the pair if shovels weren’t in the dirt by 2017.
Should that happen, the future of the franchise in Milwaukee would be in serious doubt.
"This is something that will be great for our community," Turer said of a new arena. "I don’t want to see the Bucks leave. We have some tremendous assets in our area, it’s really easy to say, oh, let them go. It’s such an easy thing to say. That’s not the kind of thinking I like. I like to think we can be positive, we can grow as a community, we can be better. We can always be better. This community, there are a lot of other things wrong. We have to look at those things as well. This is not the only thing that has to be considered in this discussion and other issues long term in our community, but it’s clearly front and center and something that I’m sure I’ll be involved with, eventually. I just don’t know when."
"There are only 30 of these basketball franchises available, and I don't know of any other way, besides through professional sports, that a community can get its name in every newspaper, on every radio station, on every TV station, every single day during the season, whether you're winning or losing, always in a positive way," Marcus said. "Now if you're winning, that's just so much the better. That's just terrific because then the spotlight shines even brighter on you."
"Seattle didn't care about their team until they didn't have it. And now all of a sudden 'woe is me,' and they had to have it. It's one of those things -- when you're well you don't know what it's like to feel sick, I guess. It's one of those things that we really should not lose because the marketing value, what it says about our community, speaks volumes. We couldn't buy that kind of advertising."
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.