On Monday, senators and representatives of the Joint Finance Committee joined in Madison for a hearing on the proposed deal for a new downtown Milwaukee arena.
The hearing consisted of a series of questions from state senators posed to the state’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Many members of the Senate are still undecided about the proposal, and a vote was expected this week, possibly even today, but will now likely come next week. The senators that were present used the hearing as final clarification on the specifics of the deal.
After the first round of questions, State, City, and Bucks officials were given the chance to give their opinions on the arena proposal.
Bucks president Peter Feigin was the first to speak of this group. He spoke for about 12 minutes, but his main points included the economic impact, significant weaknesses to the Bradley Center, and the risk that the owners were taking in buying this team and contributing their own money toward an arena. It’s strange that “risk” would be a word commonly brought up in a presentation like this, but it appeared Feigin was trying to stress that owning this team is an investment, and that they are not guaranteed to come away with profits.
Here are some key quotes from his speech:
"“It’s not just to build a new arena, it’s really to help transform Milwaukee, to help grow the state…But the window is closing. This is a critical time in the process. We can’t wait months or even weeks to start this public-private partnership.”“The Bradley Center was designed 27 years ago for hockey, and not for basketball. There’s a larger upper bowl and a small lower bowl…there’s a direct effect economically, because promoters don’t find it economically feasible to sell out the Bradley Center.”“It’s also very important to stress the risk involved. In this situation we’ve taken the state out of the arena business, which means the team is taking tremendous risk on future operation costs of this arena… Building an arena does not guarantee positive cash flow.”“There will be over 1,400 construction jobs [created], and there will be over 2,000 permanent jobs.”"
Next on the microphone was Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce president Tim Sheehy. He did an excellent job speaking, staying clear with his point and on topic. He decided to focus mainly on the economics of the arena situation, and spent much of his time talking up the city.
As he addressed the committee, he stressed that each of them is a “steward” in the unique partnership between Wisconsin and Milwaukee, stating that Milwaukee is responsible for 30-33% of all the state’s tax revenue each year. He went on to state that about $4.5 billion comes of out Milwaukee in tax revenue.
He continued to state his case for the importance of Milwaukee, stating that it is the number one tourist destination for the entire state and second in the country in manufacturing.
Perhaps his most moving quote came towards the end:
"“There’s a significant cost to saying ‘no’. If we look ahead to 2025 and I’m back here talking to the Joint Finance Committee about who’s responsible for an empty white elephant sitting in the middle of the city while the Bucks are playing in Seattle, we will have lost a significant opportunity to continue to grow the economic prosperity of Wisconsin and of Milwaukee…This is a very, very good investment for the state of Wisconsin and the city of Milwaukee.”"
While it’s easy to see why Sheehy would support the investment of a new arena for the city he works for, it’s significant that he put himself out there so strongly in favor, as there’s significant risk for backlash.
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele was next to speak, and as many know, he is strongly in favor of the arena deal and has played a key role for drumming up support over the past few months. Before stating his main points, he cited his recent success with Milwaukee’s economy and reminded the committee how he takes taxpayer dollars very seriously. He then went on to stress the importance of filling the Park East land, the potential “Zombie Bradley Center”, and how this is a significantly better deal for the state than Miller Park.
You can watch his segment here:
Senator Taylor’s Rant
While these speakers did a great job in pointing out the obvious positives in the arena, Milwaukee’s 4th District Senator Lena Taylor stole the show for a bit when she became frustrated with the situation. After a series of questions, she realized how the state is apparently making money off the deal (from NBA player income) while the Wisconsin Center District gets none of that.
Here is a video of this portion of the hearing:
While her concerns came off poorly in what most saw as a rant, her point is certainly valid, and it’ll be interesting to see how her peers and WCD itself respond to it in the coming days.
These were the highlights from the event, but surely not all. The entire hearing lasted over 5 hours long, and contains just about every detail you could possibly hope for with the proposed arena funding deal. If you would like to spend 5 hours of your day watching it like I did, you can do so here.
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