Bucks owner: I know where I want arena to go, and you don’t

Milwaukee Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry made Don Walker‘s heart go pitter-pat yesterday at a press conference by dropping hints that he knows where he wants to build a new arena:

“As soon as I know — well, I know, but I can’t say it so I apologize — but as soon as I can tell you, I certainly will,” Lasry said. “I think within the next 30 to 60 days we’ll know where the new arena is.”

Ooh, a tease! Time for everybody to hack into Lasry’s phone and see where it’s been the last month or so. Though it might be more useful to hack into his phone logs and see which bankers, or which city officials, he’s been talking to about where to get the money for this thing.

Lasry went on to talk about a bunch of other things, including a recent preseason game where he accidentally interrupted coach Jason Kidd’s postgame address, then decided, hell with it, I’m the owner, and went ahead and talked over Kidd anyway. This guy is fitting in already.

Bucks’ arena plans exactly where they always were, reports breathless Milwaukee newspaper article

Let’s see, what’s up with the Milwaukee Bucks these days, according to our old pal Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel?

With deadline looming, shortlist emerges for new Milwaukee Bucks arena

Oh my gawrsh, there’s a deadline looming! Circle the wagons! Scramble the jets! It’s only a matter of time before—

With a self-imposed year-end deadline, the Milwaukee Bucks and others involved in the search for a proposed new downtown arena are zeroing in on a few specific locations.

…before the Bucks owners have to give themselves more time. Okay, leave the wagons where they were.

The rest of the article is just rehashed stuff that’s been previously reported, about how the Bucks owners are trying to zero in on a site first, then figure out how to pay to build an arena, which still seems a little backwards to me, but then, I’m not a mega-rich sports owner. (Also, it’s the kind of backwards that can work to their advantage, if they can pull off the “We know where we’re going to build it, now we just need to figure out how this inevitability will be paid for!” trick.) The best part, though, is this quote from an unnamed source about the site selection process:

“There is no sexiness north of the Bradley Center.”

You want context? You really don’t want context. This is the best thing you’re going to read in a Journal-Sentinel article about the Bucks arena plans for years, so just savor the moment.

Milwaukee group says Bucks owners “don’t need our money” after getting cold shoulder on playground demands

Common Ground, the Milwaukee coalition that previously said it would support public funding for a Bucks arena if it would also provide $150 million for school athletic facilities and playgrounds, now says it is opposing public funding for the arena altogether. The reason, apparently: The Bucks’ owners refused to meet with coalition leaders to discuss their plan.

Common Ground leaders had sought a meeting with the new Bucks owners to discuss their plan but have been rebuffed so far. Bob Cook, the Bucks’ vice president of business affairs, had offered to meet, but Common Ground said it wanted Edens and Lasry to fulfill a commitment to meet with the group.

Common Ground has also targeted Bucks co-owner Wes Edens for holding mortgages on several abandoned foreclosed properties in Milwaukee, which … has nothing to do with anything, I can tell, except maybe that they’re trying to argue that Edens is a guy who doesn’t really care about the city, so doesn’t deserve public money.

All its new talk of moral outrage over arena subsidies aside — “They do not need our money,” declared Jennifer O’Hear, co-chair of the group’s Fair Play campaign for public recreational facility funding — this still seems to be less a matter of principle and more a matter of wanting to use holding back support for any arena subsidies as leverage to get funding for programs they want, too. Common Ground is affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation, the community activist umbrella group founded by Saul Alinsky, whose guiding premise was to focus on winnable battles over concrete local issues, not big-picture ideology. That certainly has strengths, but it also has weaknesses, one of which is that it can become easy to buy off Alinsky-style groups by throwing some money at their pet projects, as Brooklyn Nets developer Bruce Ratner did by offering the IAF-inspired ACORN control of affordable housing on the site in exchange for its support of arena subsidies. (And as the same ACORN group earlier attempted to do around a minor-league baseball stadium in Brooklyn.)

So, this is all presumably tactical for Common Ground, in order to get a seat at the negotiating table. Which may end up being good for Milwaukee playgrounds, but that’s not necessarily the same thing as being good for Milwaukee.

UW-Milwaukee on possible Bucks arena site: Um, guys? We’re still playing here?

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reporter Don Walker’s obsession with where to build a new Bucks arena is everlasting, but sometimes there’s actual news to be covered on the “Where do we put the arena that we don’t know how to pay for?” front. For example, this:

In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, interim Chancellor Mark Mone said building a new arena on the site would not just displace the men’s basketball program, but disrupt other university programming planned over the 10-year agreement to rebrand the arena.

“The larger reason for us to be there is really about more visibility and our brand image and making a statement,” Mone said. “We are not just the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, but the University of Wisconsin for Milwaukee.

“We want this to be a win-win for the community. We just don’t want to be displaced.”

So, basically, UW-Milwaukee doesn’t want to be evicted from its old arena to make way for a new Bucks arena. Whether this will hold any sway with lawmakers deciding on where (and whether — please, let someone remember that it’s also whether) to build a new Bucks arena, who knows, but it’s another small fly in a very, very large pool of ointment.

Milwaukee business group proposes spending so much on Bucks arena and museums, they can’t even count it all

Milwaukee’s Cultural and Entertainment Capital Needs Task Force — an epic name for what’s really just a committee of the local chamber of commerce — issued its recommendations for how much the city should plan on spending for a new Bucks arena and on local museums and zoos. And the answer is, unsurprisingly: a lot. Though perhaps more surprisingly, it’s not clear exactly how much of a lot:

It will take nearly $34 million each year over a 20-year period to address deferred maintenance needs and capital improvements at four major Milwaukee cultural institutions and provide public financing for a new arena…

According to the presentation, the total estimated investment over 20 years would be $445 million, not including interest. No figure was offered for a 20-year cost that includes the cost of borrowing.

Okay, so not counting interest, $34 million a year for 20 years would come to … $445 million? Wait, that’s not how multiplication works. And adding operating costs for all the facilities would, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, mean “an estimated $44.9 million would be needed each year totaling $675 million over 20 years” … which doesn’t add up either. Come on, doesn’t anybody at the Journal Sentinel have a calculator?

Anyway, the task force also proposed a whole bunch of ways to raise public money toward these pressing needs, including a sin tax on alcohol and cigarette sales, tax increment financing, ticket taxes, or a sales tax hike. The apparent goal of all this is to muddy the waters by dumping a whole bunch of different projects into one pile, throwing out a long list of different financing plans, and then hoping people focus on deciding which option they find least distasteful instead of questioning why the chamber of commerce gets to decide city spending priorities in the first place. In fact, maybe this explains the math issues — we’ll know for sure what they’re up to if the next Journal Sentinel reader poll turns out to be “What do you think 34,000,000 times 20 equals?”

Guy wants to raise sales tax to fund Bucks arena, gets in paper because he’s landed gentry

The Milwaukee Business Journal reports that Gary Grunau has proposed funding a new Bucks stadium with the help of a 0.5% sales-tax hike throughout Milwaukee County. And who is Gary Grunau?

Milwaukee County should enact an 0.5 percent sales tax that would sunset after six years and provide $400 million toward improvements at the Milwaukee County Zoo, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts and Milwaukee Public Museum as well as a new downtown arena and a streetcar system linking the city’s universities, Milwaukee commercial real estate developer Gary Grunau proposed Friday.

You know, there are all kinds of people with suggestions about what to do about a Bucks arena. Most of them, including close to two-thirds of those in Milwaukee County itself, do not want to raise sales taxes to give money to the Bucks for a new arena. Those people do not own lots of property, however, so they don’t get to have their pet plans published in the local business journal.

And what does Grunau have to say about those who are opposed to subsidizing the Bucks with sales tax dollars?

“A half cent is 50 cents on a hundred-dollar purchase, which isn’t going to kill anybody in this community,” Grunau said.

Or, looked at another way, it’s half a billion dollars total, which if not spent available for other needs, kinda could kill somebody. Isn’t math fun?

Milwaukee paper wants you to know how urgent Bucks owners are for arena, whether they are or not

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel where-will-we-put-the-new-Bucks-arena correspondent Don Walker has another update for us, people!

Bucks owners hope to pick site for new arena by year’s end

So, that’s kind of news. Also kind of familiar. Didn’t Walker just write this article?

Local leaders say arena plans must be in place by new year

Oh, okay, before it was the local chamber of commerce head saying he wanted arena plans finalized by the end of the year. Now it’s the Bucks owners saying the same thing. What did they actually say, anyway?

Asked about a timetable, Edens said, “as soon as possible. But that doesn’t mean tomorrow. The reality is a decision like this is a critical one. We would hope to be in the position of having a site by the end of the year. … But it’s not entirely in our control.”

That’s … not actually a timetable, is it? Good thing Edens stuck in an actual date somewhere in his comments, so that the Journal-Sentinel had something to hang a headline on. I’d assumed that Walker’s constant harping on an arena site was because he was too willing to reprint anything that people in positions of power told him, but maybe I’m not giving him enough credit — maybe he’s actually trying to get an arena deal done ASAP so that he can finally be released from his purgatory of having to write the same article over and over and over again. Where’s Heracles when you need him?

Milwaukee paper now just writing about every possible place Bucks could put an arena

The Buffalo News may be trying to be your news leader in focusing obsessively on where to put the new sports venue that nobody knows how to pay for yet, but Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel isn’t going to take that lying down. Walker’s gone this route before, but today he doubles down on head-down where-will-it-go reporting, with the headline:

Is UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena a possible new arena site?

Well, that sounds like news, anyway? What’s the answer?

Franklyn Gimbel of the Wisconsin Center District says he has been assured by someone at City Hall that a new arena in Milwaukee will not be built on land now occupied by the 64-year-old UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena…

But Mayor Tom Barrett says that’s not true. Every potential site downtown is still on the table, he says.

So either “no” or “yes, the same as every other site in Milwaukee,” depending on who you believe. This could be a great way for Walker to fill column inches (or screens, I guess, since this is a web article): All he needs is a map of Milwaukee and a dart, and he can keep writing this same column for years.

Milwaukee paper: Bucks will leave town without new arena, according to someone we won’t tell you who it is

The inimitable Don Walker had an article in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel over the weekend that is ostensibly about how if the Bucks don’t have a new arena in place by October 2017, the NBA can buy back the team and move it elsewhere. We’ve known about that buyback clause since April, though — Walker’s story moves up the deadline by a month, but in the grand scheme of things, that’s insignificant.

No, the real news here is the introduction of one of the first new sports venue strategies in the last 20 years: the ghost threat.

Some quick backstory: Sports team owners go into stadium and arena battles with a quandary, which is that their best leverage is to threaten that the team will move without subsidies for a new building, but at the same time outright threatening to move the team is not the best way to win friends among the politicians and voters who you’re asking for money. One way around this is to proclaim something along the lines of, “The last thing we want is for this team to leave town.” (In the book Field of Schemes, we dubbed this the non-threat threat, though if we’d had hotlinks available we might have gone with the paratrooper gambit.) Another is to have league officials make the threat on your behalf, because that’s what league officials are for.

Walker’s story, though, breaks new ground by having the threat levied not by a mock-hesitant owner or the NBA commissioner, but by someone who won’t even give their name:

“The date is in the provision as part of the sale agreement,” [a source familiar with the Bucks lease deal] said. “It’s written as such. When you get to the point where (a new arena) is not going to happen, (moving) will have to be discussed at that point.”

There is no shortage of cities waiting to become one of 30 with an NBA franchise: Las Vegas, Kansas City, Louisville and Seattle have been mentioned as suitors, even new markets in Canada. And there seems to be no shortage of wealthy people willing to secure a franchise; Steve Ballmer paid $2 billion for the Los Angeles Clippers.

“[Bucks owners] Marc [Lasry] and Wes [Edens] have no intention of moving the team whatsoever,” said the source. “But they understand that a new arena is a significant necessity for the ongoing success of the franchise, which is to have a state-of-the-art facility that rivals their counterparts.”

This is precisely the kind of use of unnamed sources — to allow the source to put across his or her message in the media without actually having to be accountable for it — that has led to widespread criticism of the overuse of anonymity in the U.S. media. In fact, Walker’s article arguably violates the Journal-Sentinel’s own ethics policy, which states:

Except in unusual circumstances, we should allow anonymity only when the source has a legitimate fear of suffering harm or reprisals if identified. We should not allow anonymous sources to make personal attacks; criticisms of character should be stated on the record. We will characterize anonymous sources as completely as possible so that readers can make judgments about their authority, expertise or bias.

Clearly someone putting forth the NBA company line doesn’t have a “legitimate fear” of reprisal if it’s a league source, though “unusual circumstances” is a pretty big loophole. Likewise, saying “a source close to the deal” isn’t much of a complete characterization, since there’s no way for readers to tell whether this is someone with the Bucks, the league, the city of Milwaukee, or what.

Walker’s article, sadly, isn’t that unusual — the use of unnamed sources is widespread, even in places where it’s not necessary. But allowing an unnamed source to levy a move threat, without having to put on the record who’s making the threat, is new to the sports venue game.

Meanwhile, neither Walker nor anyone else in the Milwaukee media has investigated the question that’s been hanging out there since spring: Did Lasry and Edens (and former Bucks owner Herb Kohl) conspire with the NBA to insert that buyback clause into the lease, to give them better leverage in gaining subsidies for a new arena? It would take more actual investigation than making a phone call and saying, “Sure, I’ll print what you say without putting your name in the paper,” but it’s kind of what we have newspapers for, you know?