Milwaukee residents continue to berate Bucks arena deal at latest public hearing

The Milwaukee city council held its first public committee hearing on the Milwaukee Bucks arena plan yesterday, and as at the council’s previous public town hall meetings, there was lots of unhappiness at the already-approved-by-the-state-but-not-yet-the-city deal:

“Buck owners Mark Lasry, Wesley Edens and Jamie Dinan are New York billionaire hedge-fund owners who have the resources to build this arena themselves,” Jennifer O’Hear, speaking for Common Ground, told members of the Common Council’s Steering & Rules Committee.

“They do not need our public money,” she said. “Our children and our neighborhoods need our public money.”

Okay, that’s Common Ground, which has been harping on this whole “schoolkids need more money than billionaires” thing for a while now. (Come on, what do schoolkids have to spend money on? It’s not like they could even drive a yacht if they had one!) What about the hoi polloi, the average Joe, the person on the street?

One speaker after another panned the idea.

“It’s trickle-down economics,” Mary Watkins said. “We are hurting. We cannot afford to put millions of dollars in a project billionaires can build on their own.”

Several speakers said they were opposed to the entertainment district, which they thought would cannibalize existing bars and taverns.

“I have long accepted that the ship has sailed and the arena will be built,” Pat Small testified.

“Downtown has no shortage of bars and restaurants,” he said. There is “no need to subsidize the entertainment district.”

Peter Rickman, of Wisconsin Jobs Now, told council members: “Milwaukee has a good jobs problem.”

He urged council members to hold the Bucks accountable for living wages and for workers’ rights, both during the construction of the arena and its facilities, and once those facilities were built and staffed with waiters, janitors and housekeepers.

On the other hand, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, “business and labor leaders” said the arena would be a “catalytic project,” presumably by means of something like this. The full council is expected to vote on the plan on September 22, at which point we’ll find out whose opinions they listen to.

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14 comments on “Milwaukee residents continue to berate Bucks arena deal at latest public hearing

  1. There’s no way their Council rejects this. Sorry.

    It’s going to end the way at least 80% of them do: Failing to meet economic projections. And in other news, the sun rose today. I’m guessing it will also set tonight.

  2. To by fair Scott Walker would be cutting money for schools and the poor regardless of if they had sports in Wisconsin or not, because Scott Walker is an awful human being.

  3. It was painful to watch the pro-arena people—and really I wonder how many of them were asked (read: ‘paid’) to be there—trot out the ‘jobs’ and ‘development’ arguments that have been debunked by pretty much every economic study every done on the subject. Even sadder were the handful of fans who thought having an NBA team made them a world class city. No, just means you have a basketball team, like Sacramento and Oklahoma City.

  4. It was also painful to watch reps of business organizations, including downtown business improvement districts, chambers and others–whose salaries are paid by business members–all support subsidies for the Big Box Bucks Mall. Of course, it’s likely to cannibalize those members, but the Bucks probably have exacted a Loyalty Oath.

    “Cannibalizing” is apt here since the cabal is on board to eat their young–or let them be eaten.

    A similar “entertainment district” called PabstCity was rejected by this council a decade ago, after much outcry by groups, citizens, and local businesses concerned that the city would spend tens of millions (as this will) to over-saturate the Greater Downtown hospitality market. A better development with just one pub took shape instead.

    Yesterday, just one restaurant owner passionately carried the banner. Pat Moore owns a popular cafe in Riverwest, north of downtown in a neighborhood known for its community spirit and love of all things local. At least there was one! And no arena-adjacent establishment owner stood up to say, go ahead, build a massive mall full of chains to compete against us…

  5. Speaking of Sacramento, I walked past the construction site yesterday. Folks, it’s very ugly. It looks like 1966 architecture.

    Talk about the final product not meshing with the vaportecture. They’ve started to put in the glass panels, and it really looks like garbage. They will be complaining about this arena within 10 years. The parking, the access, the looks, the loading docks…

    It’s really hideous.

  6. Thought it was also bad strategy by Common Ground to have one speaker speak on behalf of all of them (and there were enough of them to occupy the main room while most everyone else had to wait in an anteroom for space to become available). It was very thoughtful of CG to not take all the time, but they could have had 10-20 people speak, not necessarily identify that they were with CG, and give more of an impression that there are a large number of people that are opposed to this; or if it’s going to happen, want something matching for the regular folks in MKE.

    But after Ms. O’Hear spoke, about 30 people (probably more) from CG got up and left the main meeting room. It looked like a strong statement, but then to have a parade of individual saying, “JOBS! GROWTH! YEAH BUCKS!” come up after made it look like way more people are pro-arena.

  7. @MikeM

    What I don’t understand is why they need to have those massive doors at the entrance that will stay open sometimes to give the arena an “outdoor” feel. I don’t know how this contributes to anything positive. All it will do is bring unwanted noise to the area which will get even more complaints. Not to mention birds flying in and what not.

    Another problem is that not only will they have 2 levels of suites but there will also be space between the top of the lower bowl and the bottom of the suite level which will push the fans in the upper deck even further up. I know what they’re trying to accomplish but again, it does more harm than good. They want fans to be able to see the game while walking the concourse but that’s lame because people are trying to get to their seat while walking the concourses so that they can actually sit down and watch the event.

    If they want fans to have access to the game while on the concourses, they should just add more big screen tv’s like they’ll have at the concession stands. Otherwise, the negative aspect of pushing fans further up in the upper bowl just takes away from the “intimate” element that they claim to want to have carry over from the old arena.

    The new arena is supposed to limit complaints from the public and keep an intimate element for the fans but they seem to be doing the opposite. Keep the doors closed and connect the lower bowl to the suite levels. It won’t bring the upper bowl any further down since they’ve already built the upper bowl but at least you add seating to the lower bowl. Not sure if it’s too late though. The lower bowl seems to be taking shape already.

  8. Common Ground are common extortionists (not that I think that extortion should be illegal, but I know that a lot of you people do). They want $80 million to shut up, just like that guy wanted $2 million from David Letterman to keep quiet about Letterman being a perv. The reality is that ever since Walker passed the anti-union bill, parks employees have been slow-playing their job responsibilities and letting parks go to crap. If Common Ground would at least bury parks employees for killing a formerly awesome parks system because of their anti-Walker political agenda, they’d get sympathy from me.

    On the existing bars and taverns, who cares? Does anyone really think that there’s a big overlap between buffalo wild wings patrons and people who want good, local food & drink? The only bar & restaurant owners who need to worry are the people who serve the same reheated crap that BW3s serves. In L.A., Staples Center has generated way more business for non-chain bars & restaurants than it has for the gimmick places that are at L.A. Live.

  9. Trueblood, this arena design is set in stone. Not only that, but it already varies significantly from the original guidelines. The original concept called for 18,500 seats, they got 17,500 seats. This is one hell of a lot of work to increase the seating capacity by 183 seats. I think most of the increase in capacity comes from the greater number of suites. I’d bet there will actually be fewer “sit-down” seats.

    They’ll use this when they start whining within 10 years. “It’s too small!” Hope I’m alive to witness the whining.

  10. Whoa, Ben….So now short-staffed parks workers are villains? That’s a new one (second only to teachers?). Severe defunding of MKE parks has been happening for 30 years. You can get stats from the exec. dir. of The Park People, a former county regional parks manager for many years. I know for a fact the parks department has been reducing specific maintenance for years–and staff cringe over what they must ignore. It was covered in a recent audit of Boerner Botanical Garden–where they now do “triage gardening,” covered in the JS.

    I am one of 10-15 weekly volunteers who help maintain one of our showcase parks. If not for all the volunteer labor throughout the county our parks would be in much worse shape. We need a dedicated funding source, but MMAC and others oppose that–while insisting that endless $$ be pumped into an arena. But many Bucks fans live outside MKE County, and they have their own parks or big yards, and don’t care about good parks for all.

  11. Neil,

    I’m sure someone has done a study on development in LA’s downtown if you don’t want to take my word for it.

    On Milwaukee’s parks system, the fact that the parks have gone into decline is not in dispute. I don’t know if anyone has done a study, but you definitely see parks employees’ slow-playing maintenance on the golf courses. Even my dad — a life long Democrat, Milwaukeean & golfer — now stays in the suburbs when he golfs.

  12. The nonpartisan Public Policy Forum has done at least one detailed study on MKE County Parks and their capital and maintenance needs. The County also keeps a tally of capital needs (about $200M and counting).

    I doubt there’s any more “slow-playing” among park staff than among other workers in any sector. Most maintenance staff are seasonal hires. If they really slough off they’re not likely to be rehired. Yes, park golf courses etc are all less well-maintained than before, but scapegoating bare-bones staffs is barking up the wrong tree. Suburban parks like Whitnall Park are equally in decline…Our parks simply need more funding.

  13. Ben, re: LA Live, there may be no comparison to Milwaukee. There are already two thriving “entertainment zones” 1-3 blocks from MKE”s arena. A total of 70 pubs/eateries within a half mile. Everything from burger bars to the toniest restaurants downtown. No independent econ impact study has been done. UWM’s renowned economist Marc Levine has warned about negative impacts of oversaturating a limited hospitality market, not just around the arena but in greater downtown. MKE’s one of the 3 poorest metro areas in the country. We can’t magically materialize new patrons–for a bunch of chain bars!

    In contrast, LA Live was built in a large area with massive blight. Of course Staples Center, Nokia Theater and other major venues increased overall demand–and LA is a mass market and tourism destination. MKE’s tourism market is already well served. One consultant said we need to add one or two establishments to all existing “hospitality nodes,” not a dozen plunked down overnight in one place.

    One MKE case in point: a developer that planned to open a German hall in suburban Glendale away dropped the plan because their studies showed that the area could not support another since the one downtown (next to arena) has that niche covered–even though it’s about 7-8 miles away. Nonethless, the Bucks pretty pictures show a beer garden as part of their “world’s biggest outdoor courtyard.” I’d bet on the authentic one winning out in the long term, but everyone will be hit with smaller slices of the pie.

    Business boosters are supporting this mall, because the Bucks pitched it as an all-or-nothing package deal. Those business people surely are simply ignoring Econ 101. It seems like the small businesses will be the sacrificial eggs broken to make the Bucks’ omelette…Just like Wal-Mart drives out local businesses. Except consumers won’t benefit from lower beer prices…

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