Over a decade ago, Kansas City wanted to replace the venerable Kemper Arena, a more than 30-year-old facility that, at one point, was home to the NBA's Kansas City Kings.
As part of that downtown development, an entertainment area called the Power & Light District was created, a collection of bars, restaurants, entertainment venues, offices and, later, some residential units.
If all of this sounds familiar to Milwaukee, it should. Our city is currently going through the same pains and pleasures that accompanied the development in Kansas City. The Kings fled to Sacramento in 1985, and Kansas City hasn't had a major pro sports tenant in the Kemper Arena since then.
One of the developments in Kansas City was that, initially, the entertainment district was largely populated by chain establishments. But people weren’t all that attracted to the chains, and the future looked bleak.
Then many of the chains left, and local places started coming in, which made a big difference. The Power & Light District is now a very alive and attractive mecca for entertainment – not just on nights when there is an event at the Sprint Center. It is a destination for people from all over the city and its suburbs.
"We’d have to be out of our minds not to have learned a lesson from what happened in Kansas City," said Peter Feigin, the industrious president of the Milwaukee Bucks and the guy wearing the engineer's hat for this whole thing.
Feigin isn’t lifting this load all by himself; one of the his key partners is Populous, the design firm that built the Sprint Center and the Power & Light District. Populous is headquartered in Kansas City and, at times, has used that development as a sales tool for its work.
"Clearly we are going to have to do what’s right for Milwaukee," Feigin said. "This is a city that is almost maniacal about authenticity. It’s a Midwestern thing but it’s especially true here. Milwaukee is a city that demands value, and that sensibility is the kind of thing that guides all our decisions."
One of the vestigial hallmarks of Milwaukee is that we harbor a little bit of suspicion toward outsiders who come here with promises of progress. It was like a world war just seeing the outsiders from Warner Amex (now Time Warner) win the cable television contract. Decades later, it has earned a spot in the community (now rebranded as Spectrum) through delivery of service and community relations.
The Bucks are obviously using both experiences to build their influence and acceptance in what Feigin called "a tough town."
They have made the kinds of moves that will, hopefully, develop a basketball team we can all be proud of. None of the other stuff will work unless we believe in their efforts. We don’t need them to be champions, just to be working toward an NBA title.
The Bucks engineered a complex public-private partnership to build the new arena, which is scheduled to open in September 2018. Feigin said he expects the surrounding entertainment district to open at the same time.
While all that is going on, the Bucks have made nary a misstep since the arrival of the new owners and their expansive crew in 2014. Feigin has led a clear and broadly based commitment to community relations and demonstrated a heartfelt focus on underserved communities. He has set a brave and honest tone for his staff, and Milwaukee is better for some of the discussions that have come from the efforts of the team, in terms of both basketball and non-basketball issues.
Kansas City’s Power & Light District has about 25 entertainment places, and more than half of them are local, with branches of both new and established Kansas City spots.
It’s probably realistic to expect that the Milwaukee district, which is still unnamed, may have a mix that is even more tilted toward local ownership. When you think of the Bartolotta Group, Surg, Lowlands and RC Schmidt, there are plenty of operators who would love being in the area. It also provides an opportunity for some new operators to get in on the ground floor.
"There are going to be 200 non-event nights there, and there needs to be reasons for people to come on those nights, as well," Feigin said. "This is a tight timetable. But with hard work and time and effort, we can get this done.
"One of the things we’ve learned about Milwaukee is that you have to put up when it’s time. In Milwaukee, you have to go beyond expectations."
Almost from the day the Bucks' new guys hit town, they’ve been running at a blistering pace toward the opening of the arena.
"Once we get it open, then we’ll take a week off," Feigin said. "But then it’s back to a master plan for two more blocks on the Park East and the land where the Bradley Center sits. There’s still going to be plenty of decisions to be made and plenty to do."
It’s an exciting time to be in Milwaukee, and what would put a cherry on top of this treat is the Bucks competing for the NBA title in the 2018-19 season, in a new arena surrounded by parties in the entertainment district.
The mind boggles.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.