Wisconsin rep concocts excuse for backing $120m in Bucks arena subsidies, forgets to use actual math

If Rob Manfred didn’t learn his stadium shakedown lesson from the NFL’s Eric Grubman, he can look to another newbie commissioner, the NBA’s Adam Silver, who already has this stuff down:

For both fans and detractors of the Milwaukee Bucks wondering whether the team might still relocate to Seattle, NBA commissioner Adam Silver reiterated Thursday that he is confident the Bucks will remain in Milwaukee and get a new arena…

“We have complete confidence they’re going to get the deal done in Milwaukee,’’ Silver said, according to the Seattle Times.

See? Not “I have confidence the Bucks are going to stay in Milwaukee,” because that would take the heat off local elected officials to get an arena subsidy deal done. Not “in the context of relocation, it’s important to have viable alternatives.” Just short and sweet: We’re confident they’ll come up with the ransom money, with the “or else” hanging there unstated but clear as day.

And are Wisconsin legislators listening? You betcha they are, as witness state rep. Mary Czaja, who is from way up in the north of the state where residents oppose funding a Bucks arena almost 9-to-1, yet she’s still come up with a rationale for supporting $120 million in state subsidies to the Bucks. How, you ask?

Czaja’s logic: The state of Wisconsin still owes $20 million on the BMO Harris Bradley Center in downtown Milwaukee, which needs an additional $100 million in maintenance.

“We’re on the hook for it,” Czaja said.

Whether or not a new Bucks home is built, she added, “We will still be in the arena business. If we don’t do this, we’re going to lose the revenue on the Bucks and the trickle-down effect of that revenue into Milwaukee. We need a healthy Milwaukee to have a healthy state. That’s reality.”…

“When you explain it to constituents that way, they’re like, ‘Well, I would rather have the new arena, and the Bucks stay in the revenue, than a $120 million Bradley Center that has no major tenant in it.’”

I’m somewhat doubtful that Szaja has had this conversation with actual constituents as opposed to imaginary straw constituents in her head, but let’s think through the logic here. First off, if Wisconsin still owes $20 million on building the Bradley Center (which it does), it’s going to owe that whether the building is there or not. So that’s not money that can simply get repurposed for a new arena.

And what about that $100 million in needed “maintenance”? That’s based on an estimate last year from the Bradley Center’s state-run non-profit operator, and would include money for HVAC improvements, replacing seats, and “challenges with our parking structure.” It’s also an estimate of expenses over the next decade, so knock that figure down some to get to present value of the future costs.

Most of all, though, the state arena authority would own any new arena — and would be on the hook for maintenance costs there, too. So in exchange for putting up $120 million in state cash for a new Bucks arena, the state would get out from under, let’s say, maybe $70 million in maintenance on the old one — and add maintenance costs for a new, more expensive one, with pricier things to fix when they break.

This would no doubt sound like less of a good deal to Szaja’s imaginary constituents, which is why she doesn’t explain it that way. Either that, or she’s really bad at math. Or both! Sometimes incompetence and duplicity can go hand in hand.

5 comments on “Wisconsin rep concocts excuse for backing $120m in Bucks arena subsidies, forgets to use actual math

  1. Rep. Czaja (and her constituents) may not realize that a good chunk of the vaguely-estimated project price tag ($500M) is for a multi-story, one-square block “entertainment complex” (on top of an arena). This nightlife district will be owned and managed by the State of Wisconsin, which has the third-highest bars-per-capita rate in the U.S. Liability issues alone are frightening. Boosters want it to be a “24/7 destination.” Cutting that annex would allow the project to be built w/o taxpayer money.

    Folks in her district might rather have a few bucks allotted for state parks maintenance (it’s now at zero) or funding for the UW system ($300M is being cut from budget), or to keep 66 scientist positions from being cut from Dept. of Natural Resources. But even Milwaukee folks know this deal will hurt, rather than help, the city (except for a few folks in on the Bucks deal).

  2. What? No, the entertainment complex is another $500 million on top of the $500 million for an arena. And the state wouldn’t operate that, though I believe it might own some of the land under it for tax exemption purposes.

  3. “We need a healthy Milwaukee to have a healthy state. That’s reality.”

    What? A state official admitting that Milwaukee is important to the state? If only it were in relation to something significant. Also, isn’t the plan still to keep the Bradley Center around? The Admirals and Marquette were still planning on playing there, last I heard.

  4. Walker’s original $220M number wasn’t pulled out of a hat. With the owners and Kohl providing $250M and the expectation that the city and county would kick in $50M combined, the $220M was to bring the total to $520M. That would cover the new arena and the existing debt on the Bradley Center. The assumption, then, was that they would demo the Bradley Center and be off the hook for the $100M in maintenance costs.

    Not sure how all of that is supposed to work under whatever new plan they’ve been trying to push.

  5. Neil, city officials have said they can’t do a TIF district because there will be NO NEW development in anywhere near the arena actually paying taxes. The state’s draft bill (reported on at Urban Milwaukee by Bruce Murphy) clearly has the “arena authority” (the state) managing every single part of this…the ancillary development, the practice facility, the entertainment complex.

    If the Bucks were not trying to get the public to pay for this, someone would be talking about an actual private developer who would be investing in it. No, the Bucks have gotten the mayor to give away a city parking garage so the public can raze it and build the trendy hot-spot there, plus building a new parking garage a block or two away, for another $50M or whatever…

    The numbers are just placeholders ($500 MIllion, $1 Billion $2 Gazillion). I’ll be thrilled to have it confirmed otherwise, but the Bucks keep yakking about this “year-round destination” that will be part and parcel of the project, as in “paid for by taxpaying chumps.” Of course, it will cost much more then $500M. But this is the only way the Bucks can massively increase their footprint and be as “opportunistic as possible,” as Prez Feigin told an audience in Jan.

    The fact that this mega-project is completely vague lets everyone believe it will be whatever they imagine. And cost nobody nothin’…