Bucks arena finally gets final approval (pay no attention to the fine print)

The Milwaukee city council, after two months of debate and contentious public hearings, cast its vote on city subsidies for a parking garage and team-controlled pedestrian plaza for a new Bucks arena this morning, and … come on, what did you really expect?

A $47 million city spending plan for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena won Common Council approval Tuesday, the final endorsement needed for a $250 million public financing package that includes state and county cash.

The council voted 12-3 Tuesday to approve the plan, with Ald. Mark Borkowski, Ald. Nik Kovac and Ald. Tony Zielinski in opposition.

The passage of the city cash has been a fait accompli for a while now. The big question was what would happen to Ald. Bob Bauman’s proposal to amend the plan so that it would no longer permanently close North 4th Street and give the resulting pedestrian plaza over to the Bucks. And the result was, according to one correspondent who was there, that nothing was actually resolved about that: The question of whether the pedestrian plaza will be year-round or only on game days was kicked back to the city Department of Public Works, which has say over such matters, and which will now need to have its own set of hearings and whatnot. Which the Bucks owners presumably won’t like, but what are they going to do, turn down half a billion bucks out of spite?

The other big unknown that remains for the Bucks arena — other than the final design, which the council will get to sign off on later this fall, but that’s even less likely to provide fireworks (aside from any that are unleashed by the magic basketball) — is the team’s lease, and in particular whether it will include an agreement with any teeth to keep the team from leaving town before the building is paid off. Or threatening to leave town, which can be just as bad, as Indianapolis found out to its dismay. The city council didn’t have any say over the lease language, so it’s going to come down to negotiations between the governor’s office and the Bucks. At least Scott Walker has plenty of time to spend on this now, right? And surely he’ll drive a hard bargain, since it’s not like he has a conflict of interest or anything.

21 comments on “Bucks arena finally gets final approval (pay no attention to the fine print)

  1. Well, the Bucks saga ended with barely a whimper by city officials. No surprise.

    Nevertheless, the Biggest Loser in all this might be Scott Walker, who unexpectedly ended his once-much-touted White House bid the day before. There were many national articles about Walker’s abject hypocrisy about this arena deal in national media, early on by Neil but eventually by NYT and others.

    It remains to be seen whether all the powers-that-be will allow the Bucks owners (who have been given 30 acres of public land prime for free to do with as they please) to completely “OWN THE FUTURE” of Milwaukee. Governing by slogan and whim is now the norm in Wisconsin and Milwaukee.

    Mayor Barrett and County Exec Abele, both nominal Dems, have adopted similar strategies to Gov. Walker in this deal and other areas. They’re all falling over themselves to see who can give away the most public assets to the wealthiest guys in any room.

  2. Man that is a classic FoS comment.

    1. How is it hypocrisy for Walker? He never said he was anti-growth or anti-business. You can believe that the new arena won’t help growth, but it’s idiotic to assert that Walker isn’t TRYING for growth.

    2. Milwaukee bought ten years. If the next ten are like the last ten, they’ll be in Virginia Beach.

    3. I like how Tom Barrett is a “nominal Dem”. There is literally no difference right now between the base of the Democratic party and socialism. How sad is that?

  3. When one chooses to support one plan with little to no evidence of “growth” (and lots of contrary evidence) and cut/oppose things that there is actual basic evidence (and marginal, I would argue biased, contrary evidence) that supports links to growth and productivity (public investment in education and infrastructure, union membership, etc.) that is hypocrisy.

  4. “There is literally no difference right now between the base of the Democratic party and socialism.”

    Don’t worry about it. The party (like the other one) is owned by corporations. The only socialism corporations like are the socialized costs. The profits remain privatized.

  5. Floormaster: I’d say you’re confusing “hypocrisy” and “dishonesty.” Walker is consistent about who he thinks he should give public money to — he just concocts bogus reasons for doing so.

  6. So, Ben, as long as someone claims they were ‘trying’ to grow the economy, any actual outcome is alright? Too bad this nugget of wisdom arrived after the second OJ trial…

    Except in the world Scott Walker appears to live in, people get judged by the results of their actions, not their claimed intentions.

    Growth generally is defined by an increase in economic activity. If Milwaukee has one professional basketball team now and one arena, building a new arena that neither attracts a new tenant or brings in new business in other ways (IE: just replaces the existing building) is not growth. If, as you suggest, the Bucks will leave in ten years anyway, how is this level of spending going to result in any sort of growth?

    Paying sports franchises not to leave a city (or to ‘maybe not leave a city right now’) is the equivalent of paying General Motors not to stop making cars or paying public employees not to quit their jobs. It’s bad business.

    The argument that “this economic activity will leave” if the team does is also false. Most of the Bucks-related spending will be redirected to other entertainment options in the city. As has been demonstrated in pretty much every study ever done of pro sports and economic activity, sports franchises may aggregate spending in a particular zone, but they do not create any appreciable amount of new spending. Even the spending of NBA fans who travel to Bucks home games will be offset by Bucks fans that travel to away games and spend there.

    Let’s call it what it is… the pro sports three-card monty. The only question is whether Walker qualifies as the dealer or the shill. Or maybe both.

  7. I live in Florida so I view Scott Walker from pretty far away and am no expert on his on-going behavior and activity. But I feel pretty confident in saying he is a not-very-smart weasel. When I look at him, he looks like as likely to ride a Harley as the Pope. If Harley-Davidson was not headquartered in Milwaukee, he would still be riding his Schwinn bicycle.

  8. @Scott: Re: “But I feel pretty confident in saying he is a not-very-smart weasel.”

    Certainly a weasel Walker has been very shrewd–if not smart. In the small ponds of Milwaukee and Wisconsin, he’s had a steady 22-year trajectory as a career politician. He’s plotted his “I’ll be the next God-anointed Reagan” delusional road to the White House since adolescence. He even trained to imitate his speech and mannerisms.

    I’ve always believed he did not have a prayer but was swift surprised by his Icarus-esque fall.

    There’s way too much money and corruption in all politics but Walker has been a total empty shell willing to do anything for his big-money backers. There’s never been anything beyond ambition, even crafting a Harley-boy image, as you noted. That’s why fellow GOP guv John Kasich made Walker look so bad. Kasich actually pushed for funding education and programs to help all Ohio citizens have a chance. And when he speaks it sounds like someone’s home–unlike Walker.

    @Ben: It’s not just that MKE Dems are pro-biz, which is not bad in itself. They go out of their way to GIVE PUBLIC ASSETS, INCLUDING PARKS AND OTHER PUBLIC LAND to corporations and wealthy guys. Not only are they not supporters of public infrastructure–they believe in privatizing for corporate gain what taxpayers have already paid for. Reverse-Robin Hood Dems. They cooked up this arena deal that robs a cash-strapped city/county and they could care less about funding a bar mall that will cannibalize small businesses. Only some businesses matter.

  9. Ben,

    1. If Governor Walker stood on his head and said he was doing it “for economic growth,” despite empirical evidence–would you doubt him?

    2. You’ve obviously never been to Virginia Beach. If Milwaukee barely has what is needed to support NBA basketball (or three pro teams), VA Beach definitely doesn’t have what it takes.

  10. MKE Native,

    In LA the downtown arena provided a huge boost for nearby bars & restaurants. It did the opposite of “cannibalize”. It’s the places at LA Live that have struggled. Obviously it could be different in Milwaukee.

  11. I’m delighted that Wisconsin only has to deal with dishonesty and not hypocrisy from its Executive. Thank goodness for that, I guess.

    Maybe you could develop an overall, non-lazy, theory that explains the lack of development or overall economic growth with the vast majority of arenas and stadiums built in the last 30 years–especially in economically distressed cities. You’ll have to control for the trend (arena or not) for wealthy cities to have growth in the downtown area.

  12. So let me get this straight: the amount of money earmarked for higher education (roughly $250 million) is given to 3 multi-billionaires for the sake of economic growth? One of said billionaires is going on a massive spending spree in his attempt to become the new subprime mortgage king, but he needs corporate welfare. The reduction of public services, the continue deterioration of infrastructure, and the failing of the education system isn’t as important as funding an entertainment venue which will result in marginal at-best economic growth. Your funding model is to shake down economically-challenged people for previously-owed debt, visiting NBA players’ payroll taxes, and the inevitable raising of taxes. Walker being a Republican has nothing to do with it, as politicians from both parties are the same. Edens and Lasry are die-hard Democrats, but they know the power of the green.

  13. If my education on the subject led me to believe that your average Democrat was anything close to a true Socialist, I’d have real reason to be antagonistic toward economics professors, too.

  14. Report on how the Dems and the GOP were in complete cahoots on this deal. Bipartisanship in service to corporate welfare at the expense of taxpayers. Also very good for funding campaigns in Citizens United era…


  15. @Ben,
    I have not been to LA Live, but your assessment rings true based on what I’ve read about packaged entertainment developments (often called soul-less and boring). They’re the new “urban mall,” heading down the same path of under-performance and decline.

    LA Live was built in a truly blighted area, so something was better than nothing. In MKE there are 10 acres still vacant after Park East freeway was torn down near the arena, but the overall area is not blighted–except by having too many giant buildings (arenas, convention center, MKE Theatre, Turner Hall, parking garages) that are vacant except for special events. That will not change unless they increase bookings but day activity is still low.

    One part of the area that’s fairly active day and night is Old World Third Street. By day, it’s a popular “destination” to visit world-famous Usinger’s Sausage shop & factory, Wis. Cheese Shop, German venues, the Spice Shop, etc. At night, it draws a dinner crowd at various restaurants (from pub grub to fine food) and then becomes a club scene. It’s a mixed-use neighborhood that has been revitalized but dates back 140 years or so. This immediate area needs more housing, and other things to bring more life, but not more bars. A cookie-cutter entertainment mall (with “Old World” gingerbread for “character” will try to steal some of that existing business by imitating what’s authentic. Hey, let’s put in a beer garden, just like EPCOT!!

    To me, what’s both arrogant and sad about the Bucks’ owners attempt to “OWN THE FUTURE” in MKE, is that they are so clueless. It’s the colonizer’s M.O. Aren’t these Milwaukee natives quaint? They love to drink beer and are so hardy they don’t mind freezing at Lambeau Field. Let’s cash in and build them a mammoth sports bar where they can pretend they’re at Lambeau and pay stadium prices for beer. Those rube natives will love it, doncha know?

    But some in MKE really are rubes, because the MMAC et al got everyone to fall for the Vulture Capitalists’ playbook. Jay, besides “King of Subprime” Edens, there’s “Let Puerto Rico Go Bust” Lasry. The Nation recently recounted how he’s lobbying Pres. Obama to let it go bankrupt so he can collect on his investments. And MKE chumps think the invaders have come to “save” us…

  16. Ben,

    I realize you are in the school of “if I like it, it is good”–but not quite sure what school of epistemology you belong to.

    You are right–one study isn’t “evidence.” Studies are “conclusions” based on a logical trail interpreting available information. If you–or anyone–contests a conclusion or a methodology, that’s what scholarship is for. Simply saying “book learnin\'” is of no value isn’t a very serious position–though it would position you well for a senior position on Governor Walker’s team.