It already seemed like it was headed this way, but the Milwaukee Bucks arena squabble is fast deteriorating into a slap fight between the state, county, and city on who’ll pay for the share of the cost that the team’s owners don’t want to. I mean, check this out:
[State Sen. Alberta] Darling accused [Milwaukee Mayor Tom] Barrett of “appalling leadership,” saying he was shifting the blame for crime without taking responsibility for what’s happening in the city. Last week, Barrett called on Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-dominated Legislature to devote more resources to public safety in Milwaukee, saying the state’s gun laws have resulted in more guns on the street.
“He never is at fault for anything,” Darling said. “He’s never the key player.”
Asked if she wanted Barrett to bring cash to the table for a new arena, Darling nodded yes.
If you’re wondering what arenas have to do with gun laws, this all goes back to last week when a toddler was run over by a car and killed, leading to a gunfight that left two other people dead as well, and Barrett blamed state legislators for loosening gun laws. In other words, the two have nothing to do with each other, but now the legislators who are pushing for a new Bucks arena aren’t going to pay for one to spite Barrett, or something, I mean anyway:
“Politics is about relationships,” [state Rep. John] Nygren said Friday. “You poke a finger in our eyes, it makes it a little harder.”
The legislators’ idea here, presumably, is that they will be able to shame Barrett into finding more money to chip in for a Bucks arena, even though he doesn’t really have any to spare. But Wisconsin officials are up against a deadline, kinda sorta, as ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reminds us:
If an arena is not in place in Milwaukee by the start of the 2017-18 season — an ambitious schedule — the NBA has the right to buy the team. League insiders suggest a sale and relocation is the next logical step. The team would be worth more, by most analyses, in another city. … The NBA has communicated it could give on the schedule a bit, but only in the case of true progress. The league isn’t threatening consequences; it’s guaranteeing them.
Let’s check the record on that. This all goes back to Wes Edens and Mark Lasry’s deal to buy the Bucks last spring, when they agreed to a clause that would allow the NBA to buy the team (and presumably move it) if arena construction isn’t underway, or at least in the works, by November 2017. You have to assume that Edens and Lasry didn’t need much arm-twisting to include this clause — it neatly lets them make the NBA the bad guys who are forcing them to demand hundreds of millions of dollars in arena subsidies, or else. And while we don’t know much about the details of the clause, thanks to the fact that the only people talking about it are unnamed sources, it sounds vague enough that the NBA could easily give Milwaukee some more rope if it feels like subsidies might be just around the corner. So the deadline is fake, just like stadium deadlines usually are.
Ultimately, though, would the Bucks likely move if more more arena funding is forthcoming in Milwaukee? The assumption here is that Seattle would be the likely relocation site, given that it’s a bigger market than Milwaukee and Chris Hansen has an arena plan ready to go, or could next year anyway, assuming he finds somebody new with deep pockets to take over for Steve Ballmer as part of his ownership group. And on top of all that, recall that the last time we went through all this with the Sacramento Kings, the NBA seemed way more interested in using Seattle as leverage to extract arena subsidies from the team’s existing city, rather than actually jumping at the chance to move into an arena that, on the plus side, would be built without a ton of taxpayer subsidies, and on the minus side, would saddle any team with arena debt since it would be built without a ton of taxpayer subsidies.
I’d say right now the move threat level posed by Seattle is low-to-moderate — worth keeping an eye on, but also not something that necessarily means Milwaukee taxpayers need to shovel as much money as possible at the Bucks owners or their team is 100% gone. (Shoveling moderate amounts of money might well do it.) Instead, we have city and state officials shouting at each other increasingly frantically to find some money already, either out of genuine fear that time is running out, or just in hopes that with enough finger-pointing they can make sure people get mad at the other guy if the Bucks do end up leaving. The American political system continues to be corporate subsidy seekers’ best friend.