Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Is David Skiles Stalling Efforts to Save the Bucks?

By - Jun 20th, 2001 05:05 am
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Community leaders seem to agree the Bradley Center and Wisconsin Center should combine forces to save the Milwaukee Bucks. But some say negotiations are being undermined by the man who runs the Bradley Center.

David Skiles was brought to town to manage the Bradley Center after a national search for an executive director. Skiles formerly ran the huge Carrier Dome, home of the famed Syracuse University basketball team. By all accounts, he has done a good job in Milwaukee. “He’s a very skilled manager,” says Jim Forbes, board president of the Bradley Center.

But Skiles could lose that job if the Wisconsin Center District takes over the Bradley Center, and some believe he is scheming to prevent that from happening. “Skiles is a major problem because he doesn’t want it to happen and he advances all sorts of major problems and arguments against it with his board,” says one member of the Wisconsin Center board.

“I’m certain he feels that if there were a merger, he would have to drop off the map,” says Ald. Tom Nardelli, another Wisconsin Center board member.

A merger of the two entities seems to make sense, since both are state-chartered institutions that book sports and entertainment events. The Bradley Center has several sports teams, including the Milwaukee Bucks, while the Wisconsin Center District oversees the US Cellular Arena and the c, which are venues for the less prestigious sports events, like wrestling or Marquette Women’s basketball. All three facilities book concerts and other entertainment.

“There’s a natural connection,” says Atty. Frank Gimbel, board president of the Wisconsin Center. “There have been loose conversations [about some kind of merger] for nearly two years,” he adds.

The impetus for these talks is the fact that the Wisconsin Center District has authority to tax, and the Bradley Center wants a subsidy to help finance renovations intended to generate more revenue for the Bucks.

But the idea of such a merger has observers comparing the respective talents of Skiles and Dick Geyer, executive director of the Wisconsin Center, whose prime task is running the Midwest Express Center. Observers describe Skiles as more entrepreneurial and Beyer as more bureaucratic.

Though the Bradley Center is a state chartered non-profit, Skiles and the Bradley Center board have run it more like a private company. Skiles has been an aggressive promoter. The Bradley Center draws more than two million people annually to its events, and is the only National Basketball Association facility that draws more people per year than its metro population. “David’s pretty creative,” says one veteran of concert promoting. “He takes some risks. He cuts some pretty hard deals. He squeezes as much money as he can.”

Skiles has been positioning the Bradley Center for expansion. He bought the old Gipfel Brewery building on 5th and Juneau, with the idea of using the land and perhaps the historic building, possibly for a sports themed brewpub. He has reportedly been in discussions with neighbors about buying other property.

Geyer, by contrast, is more comfortable in the setting of the Wisconsin Center, which is also a state-chartered non-profit, but has public officials on its board, and has been run more like a government institution. Geyer previously ran the convention center in Columbus, Ohio, but says he decided to leave when it was transformed into a for-profit venture. “I didn’t want to work for a private company,” he says.

Nardelli raves about Geyer’s entrepreneurial style. “The most stunning thing he did was paint the ceiling in the Arena black,” the alderman says. But his enthusiasm seems tactical, as though Nardelli is trying to counter the notion that Skiles has the more imaginative management style.

Skiles seems to have generated many of the ideas for the Bradley Center’s renovation, and has been very prominent in news articles about the issue, even offering his estimate of how much tax money ($35-50 million) would be needed for the renovation. In an April news article, he seemed to be publicly debating Gimbel as to whether Skiles’ idea of building a new, 4,500 seat theater is a better idea for the community than the Wisconsin Center’s proposal to renovate the Auditorium to create a similar-sized theater. But Skiles did not respond to my calls for a comment.

“He’s been the bump in the road [preventing the Wisconsin Center from taking over the Bradley Center], says one member of the Wisconsin Center board. “He’s been very thick with the legal staff of their board and he’s been instrumental in pushing the right buttons with them.”

Gimbel is more diplomatic. “The staff [of the Bradley Center] has an influence and I’m not sure it’s always a positive influence on the talks,” he says.

Gimbel seems in no hurry to conclude the negotiations. The Bradley Center needs the tax bailout, while the Wisconsin Center is sitting pretty. “It could go on for another two years or it could get settled in two months,” Gimbel says. But clearly, representatives of the Wisconsin Center believe it would go a lot faster if Skiles were less involved.

Short Take

A recent story in the Wisconsin State Journal revealed the Wisconsin Supreme Court has the largest backlog of undecided cases in its history. The seven justices have failed to issue an opinion on 51 of the cases they’ve heard since September. Former Chief Justice Nathan Heffernan told the newspaper he found it “rather astounding that there should be that big a backlog.”

Others raising questions about the court’s performance were UW-Madison Law School professor emeritus Gordon Baldwin and Howard Eisenberg, dean of the Marquette University Law School.

The story points the finger at Justice David Prosser, noting he has yet to issue an opinion on any case he’s been assigned since October. Prosser, the former Republican representative and Assembly Speaker, is known for working long hours, yet has been slow to issue opinions on the court in previous years, too. Diane Sykes and Bill Bablitch were also identified as two justices who were slower than average in finishing opinions.

One attorney I talked to who practices frequently before the court suggested, “the internal divisions on the court have very seriously hurt the performance of the supreme court. There’s been a whole group of 4 to 3 decisions where the justices are antagonistic to each other. It does not appear to be a healthy court. A lot of people are concerned about this problem.”

The State Journal quoted Prosser complaining about the “endless, fruitless babbling” of his colleagues on the court, and suggesting the court “wasted time” and took too long to make administrative decisions. That certainly doesn’t sound like a happy court.

This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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