Monday, August 26th, 2019

New Bucks owners don’t change debate


Waukesha Freeman 4/24/14 Page A5 Opinion

New Bucks owners don’t change debate

Suburbs still won’t pay for arena

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” we’re told. Why shouldn’t we look a gift horse in the mouth? If the Trojans had checked the gift horse they received, the Greeks would not have sacked their city.

Southeastern Wisconsin is being offered a $200 million gift by former Sen. Herb Kohl and the new billionaire owners of the Milwaukee Bucks, Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry. Actually it’s more of a discount coupon on a new arena for the basketball team, as that will cost much more than the $200 million being offered.

Everyone connected to the sale of the basketball team benefits from the sale terms. Kohl benefits by selling the team for $550 million. If there is no new arena in three years, the new team owners can sell the team to the NBA for $575 million. Meanwhile Edens, Lasry and Kohl get to keep the money they planned on donating to the new arena.

If the NBA has to buy the team, the league will just move the franchise and resell it, probably at a profit for all of the NBA owners. No loss there, either.

But for the taxpayers, not much has changed. We always knew Kohl was going to make a donation to a new arena. We just didn’t know how much. Now that the amount has been decided, the big question remains: Where will the rest of the money for a new arena, likely another $300 million, come from?

Possibly adding to the price tag is the campaign by some in the city of Milwaukee, including the Public Policy Forum, to couple a new basketball arena with a subsidy to the city’s cultural attractions. The Milwaukee Public Museum, the Milwaukee Symphony, even the Milwaukee County Zoo all have a wish list that they would like taxpayers to fund.

None of this is really of any interest to the communities in the surrounding counties. All of the counties are on record opposing any Miller Park-like additional tax to pay for an arena.

It’s easy to see why. Study after study has shown how limited the economic impact of a new arena is. In some cases, a new arena has proven to be an economic drain as the costs of borrowing to pay for it have crowded out other necessary spending.

The further a community is from downtown Milwaukee, the less they are going to see any benefit from a new arena. There are even less benefits from the newest arenas because they are designed to maximize a team’s revenue potential by becoming complete entertainment venues unto themselves.

It’s going to be impossible to get people outside Milwaukee to want to be taxed to pay for a new basketball arena for multimillionaire players and hedge-fund-billionaire owners. If anything, the deep pockets of the owners are going to make public financing of an arena harder to sell.

Southeastern Wisconsin politicians are aware of this, and they also remember the recall of state Sen. George Petak in Racine after his vote in support of Miller Park. It was no surprise when all four candidates running for mayor in Waukesha rejected using tax money to build a new basketball arena.

Make no mistake. If the Bucks don’t get a new sports arena, they will move. Already some people like former Milwaukee Brewers owner Bud Selig are rehashing the “Des Moines, Wisconsin” rhetoric of the Miller Park debate.

But Wisconsin already has a successful Major League Baseball team and a successful National Football League franchise. The smaller teams in the community like the Milwaukee Wave and the Milwaukee Admirals struggle for the stretched entertainment dollar in that competitive environment.

Losing the Bucks will hardly make Milwaukee the next Des Moines. There is life after an NBA franchise leaves. If Milwaukee expects the surrounding counties to help pay for a new arena, they can start calling the moving vans now.

(James Wigderson is a blogger publishing at and a Waukesha resident. His column runs Thursdays in The Freeman.)

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