By Dennis Shook for   Published Sep 01, 2006 at 5:28 AM
Will the Milwaukee Bucks leadership be able to maintain its team in one of the National Basketball Association's smallest markets?

Will someone or some group step forward to help build a new facility to provide the green for a green and growing team? And will the team have to move its facility to a suburban community to find the parcel needed to develop a larger facility and much needed ancillary businesses?

Those were the questions facing Milwaukee in the mid-1980s and they are once again challenging the team today.

The Bradley Center Board and the Bucks earlier this month agreed to a new lease, keeping the team in Milwaukee through the 2007-2008 season. The board will now work to finalize new leases with the Milwaukee Admirals and the Marquette University, said Ulice Payne Jr., chairman for the center's board.

"A short-term lease is the best we can do at this point, and the Bucks have graciously agreed to forego any improvement in their lease for the next two years," Payne said. "We have a good relationship with the Bucks, and we will continue to work together to find additional revenue that will enable us to sign a longer lease extension."

The Bucks will continue to receive 27.5 percent of gross receipts from concession sales and 13.75 percent of gross receipts from food and beverage sales in the suites at all Bradley Center events, based on the new deal. The team will also receive 30 percent of the gross receipts from merchandise sales at Bucks games and continue to receive about $2.6 million annually from the licensing of suites.

But at that point, Milwaukee may well face losing the team unless some plans for a new facility are well underway. The only way the board itself could become the leader in such a project is to possibly have the state remodel the board into a sports authority, with more latitude on the issuance of bonds. With the Bradley Center being just 19 years old, it is difficult for some people to accept that there is a need for a new facility. The building still has an agreeable appearance, particularly in a city that has many buildings that are 50 to 100 years old still playing a vital role.

Yet the Bradley Center is the second-oldest NBA facility today and seven new arenas have been constructed in other cities in the the last 13 years. Many supporters of the Bradley Center have said its 68 luxury boxes are simply not enough to generate the income needed to keep pace with the rapidly expanding player salary base. points out that Chicago has 216 such boxes, Detroit has 189, along with 3,000 of the pricier club seats. Even smaller NBA cities have more -- Memphis has 75 luxury boxes, Cleveland has 92, and Boston has 104.

Some other solutions could include adding on facilities such as the NBA City Restaurant, recently linked to the Target Center in Minneapolis.

The Bradley Center Board owns much of the land immediately surrounding the facility and that could be used to develop such related commercial activities.

The board has made other changes to try to keep people interested in recent years. The food service has been enhanced, facility changes such as a video pylon have been added, and more expensive seats have been created, in part by shifting the media from their prized front-row areas. The BC also shares proceeds from entertainment events with the Bucks.

While the Bucks have been seeking more revenues for the team. Bucks vice president Ron Walter said the team was glad to have a new lease agreement.

"It is important to have a lease in place for the 2006-2007 season," Walter said. "We had hoped to do a longer term agreement with some improvement in economic terms, but this will certainly not be our last lease with the Bradley Center. We will continue to work in good faith with the Bradley Center on a longer lease extension."

With ever-rising ticket and food/beverage prices, it can be difficult to see the need for more revenues from the fan's perspective, particularly in blue-collar Milwaukee. But since 1995, the average NBA salary has grown from $1.4 million to $4 million, while the salary cap has risen from $23 million to nearly $50 million, based on NBA figures.

Bucks owner Herb Kohl has actually spent more money on his team in the past several years than revenues would seem to justify, probably because the businessman-turned-senator realizes that people will stop coming if the team stops winning. And Kohl, who saved the team for Milwaukee by purchasing it from Janesville businessman Jim Fitzgerald more than 20 years ago, himself remains a fixture at most NBA games.

Just as important to keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee at that point was the financial contribution made by Jane and Lloyd Pettit in 1988, when they built the $71 million facility for the city. Does such philanthropy still exist in Milwaukee?

Without a new facility, the Bucks' future in Milwaukee could come down to whether Kohl decides to hang on to the team or succumbs to offers that might see the Bucks relocated out of Wisconsin, such as the rumored offer by former NBA star Michael Jordan.