Milwaukee pols have opinions on Bucks arena, even if they don’t all know what they are

Milwaukee politicians are starting to take sides in the Bucks arena debate, at least if standing with one foot firmly on each side counts as taking sides. See, for example Mary Burke, the bicycle corporation heir and former Wisconsin secretary of commerce who is currently seeking the Democratic nomination for governor, and who told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Friday that she’s firmly in favor of knowing what her options are:

“First and foremost, I think we’d get people at the table to figure out what all the options are,” Burke said during an hourlong interview with editors and reporters of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel…

“Certainly having $200 million [from the Bucks’ current and former owners] is a really good start,” Burke said. “But are there other ways of bringing private investment into this, private financing that could over time be paid off? I think all of those should be investigated and supported and pushed. And that public funding of it should be one of the last options that’s looked at.”

That’s all eminently reasonable, if completely noncommittal: Treating public funding as a “last option” could mean that she’s going to hold a hard line on demanding private funding, or it could mean “Nobody else willing to pay for this? Okay, guess it’s on us, then.” It also treats the need for a new arena as a fait accompli, with the only question being how to pay for it — somehow it’s only the private side in these matters that is allowed to walk away from deals if they’re too rich for their blood.

If we want someone who’s really taking sides, fortunately, we have Milwaukee alderman Nic Kovac, who didn’t mince words in a Thursday interview with BizTimes:

“The NBA has been printing free money for 20 years. I’m not asking them not to make money. I’m just asking them to cover the capital investment that allows them to make money. I’m an old-fashioned guy; I still like capitalism,” said Kovac, who represents Milwaukee Third District. “I don’t believe in Vladimir Putin-style corporate socialism, which is what the NBA believes in. And you can quote me on that.”

Kovac added, “The talk of contribution to me should be off the table – any public contribution that does not involve a direct return on investment. I will loan them money, I will bond them money, but in my opinion, we shouldn’t be giving them a dime. It’s a private business.”

And then we have the Journal Sentinel editorial board, which continues its series of “Just build something already!” editorials on the Bucks situation. In the latest, the board argues that “the community shouldn’t lose sight of the need to find a sustainable funding source for all of its cultural amenities,” not just an arena, then goes on to argue that playgrounds and roads are “a different conversation” that could “mean the effort collapses under its own weight.” Call this the Editorial Corollary to the Hunt Doctrine: Additional projects that add support to an arena campaign are good, but those that could lose support for it are bad. American journalism, people.

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11 comments on “Milwaukee pols have opinions on Bucks arena, even if they don’t all know what they are

  1. I keep hearing about extra private money coming in. I’m curious as to where that will come from. I know that Sacramento is trying to get $120 million in naming rights for it’s new arena so if Milwaukee can get something like that, the public would only have to come up with $80 million for an estimated $400 million arena.

  2. The Kings owners get to keep the naming rights money in that case, though. I agree that counting naming rights fees on top of the $200m in owner cash would be a nice way of funding a Milwaukee arena, but I doubt that’s what the Bucks owners have in mind when they say a “Sacramento-type” split.

  3. @Neil

    Yeah plus naming rights aren’t guaranteed. It took New Orleans over a decade to get someone to put their name on the arena.

    And the bay area is a much stronger market than Sacramento or Milwaukee and it took them 9 years to get a “whopping” $3 million a year from Larry Ellison. Of course, that had a lot to do with how bad the Warriors were in the Cohan regime but that’s basically where the Bucks and Kings are now. They’re both lousy so if team success is tantamount to getting a good naming rights deal then they may not be getting anything close to anything at all, let alone at $120 million.

  4. Ha! Nik (or, Nick, as I knew him) Kovac was an old classmate of mine at Jackie Robinson Middle School (since shuttered). We were sort of enemies and it was a rare treat whenever I beat him at anything math related. He was a solid bet to be a politician even when he was folding and rolling up his jeans cuffs back in the early 90s. He’s in his late-30’s now so this is around the time a small time politician might start to feel his oats and look to latch on to an issue that can propel him to greater name recognition. I believe him when he says he’s anti-“corporate welfare”, but Kovac’s anti-arena subsidy stance also reeks of opportunism.

  5. I hate to hijack this thread, but this is huge news:

  6. New low: Any politician who comes out against arena subsidies is an opportunist.

    Or maybe he just believes in what he believes in, unlike most politicians these days. I didn’t go to school with Mr. Kovac, but unless someone can offer something more than speculation that suggests Mr. Kovac “might” be at a point in his political career where he ‘might’ want to find a hot button issue to launch himself to new levels of… something or other… I’m inclined to take him at his word.

    There are many reasons to distrust politicians (like the ones who used to run the country and were major shareholders in the company that produces Tamiflu at the time they decided to use tax dollars to purchase vast quantities of that very drug to “prevent an outbreak”. All this despite the fact that there was no evidence tamiflu would be effective against any flu strain, let alone the ones that were prevalent at the time), but I find distrusting them because they oppose handing hundreds of millions of dollars of tax money to billionaires… well, untrustworthy, to be honest.

  7. I tend to agree with you, John. Here in Sacramento, one of our former Council members who supports the arena is someone I went to HS with. He has said some nasty stuff about me personally.

    To me, that just shows a lack of professionalism, maturity and tact… And yet, I still found a place to defend him when his personal life was falling apart. And you’ll note that I’m not naming names. I could, but that’s just petty. I won’t play that game.

    Honestly, that’s not the direction I would have gone either. Thank you for your observation.

  8. Milwaukee would do a lot better by attracting the Packers there instead of trying to keep the Bucks. People don’t care about them there. Let them go.

  9. Kings arena deal has been revised…

  10. Here’s the City’s document about how the debt will be repaid:

    They list 4 sources: Net parking revenue, a lease, hotel tax, and other arena revenue. They need to provide more detail on “net parking revenue” since, by law, they cannot use parking meter revenues to repay the bonds — parking meter revenues can go only towards parking and traffic safety costs.

    The idea of the parking non-profit has disappeared, which means this has converted to a simple lease-revenue structure.

    Note the fast timeline they’re hoping for.

    I also think that someone could be forceful on a point of order and prevent a vote on this. They did not produce the documents with enough lead-time. We’ll see if the two consistent no-votes press this issue, and if they don’t, I expect no one will.

  11. Thanks Mike.

    Unfortunately, we live in a world where politicians and lobbyists are well versed in attacking their opponent personally rather than defending their plan (or attacking the issue in question, which is really their job). It’s one of the worst aspects of modern humanity in my view… and sadly is becoming so popular a practice that we can all find ourselves being drawn into that game if we are not careful.

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