Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

Secrets of the Bradley Center

By - Sep 19th, 2001 06:29 am
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There’s a lot of money to be made in professional sports. Just ask Milwaukee’s Cook & Franke law firm. From 1988 until 1999, the firm earned $2.7 million doing all the legal work for the Bradley Center. The firm’s annual billings ranged from a high of $679,067 in 1988 to $72,521 for the 1997-’98 year.

The firm was tightly connected to the Bradley Center because the late attorney Joe Tierney was a member of Cook & Franke. And Tierney represented Jane Pettit, whose generous donation paid for the arena. In the early years of the Bradley Center, 6 of the 13 members of the Bradley Center’s board of directors were employees of Cook & Franke.

The Bradley Center’s annual reports even carried a disclaimer noting that fact and explaining, “All transactions were conducted at ‘arms length’ and in the normal course of the [Bradley Center] corporation’s activities.”

In short, there was nothing illegal about the arrangement; it simply shows the value of good connections. After the death of Tierney, another Cook & Franke attorney, Francis Croak, took over as Pettit’s representative, and the connection was preserved.

Unfortunately for the firm, another key attorney there, Charles Henderson, left and joined Davis & Kuelthau last year. Sports law is a specialty of Henderson, and his first firm’s Pettit connection no doubt got him a place on the board of the Bradley Center as well as a position as Chairman of the Board of the Pettit National Ice Center. But last year Henderson switched firms, so the legal fees of the Bradley Center are now split with Davis & Kuelthau.

The figures on Cook & Franke’s fees come from the annual reports of the Bradley Center, which I reviewed, along with the minutes of the board. The documents offer some interesting revelations:

-The Bradley Center appears to be losing money because it claims a paper loss of depreciation on the building. Since the building was a gift and involved no investment, the building technically can’t be depreciated. With that paper loss subtracted, the building has regularly been in the black, with net revenue averaging just over $2 million a year and totaling $25.6 million since 1988.

-The center’s net revenue would be much higher if not for “tenant shared revenue” that goes to the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks have received annual payments of anywhere between $2.4 million and $3.4 million in recent years, gaining a percentage of luxury suite revenue, concessions and other items.

-Most of the center’s net revenue went into building repairs and upgrades. As of June 30, 2000, when its last annual report was filed, the Bradley Center had $9.5 million in investments and a long-term debt of $4.4 million, leaving it with $5.5 million available to invest in renovations.

-The Bradley Center is not very excited about the proposal to create a professional soccer stadium. After the Center’s representatives attended a meeting where the proposal was explained, “The board agreed that this was not in the best interests of the Bradley Center, and was in conflict with the Bradley Center’s own master planning efforts.”

-The Bradley Center has been preparing to expand into the nearby area for a long time. As far back as November 1996, the center considered buying the Ambrosia Chocolate property. “The notion has always been to complete the 4th St. to 6th St. and Juneau to State area,” says Sharon Cook of Cook & Franke, “to gain some control over what might be developed around the site.” The Bradley Center eventually chose not to purchase the property but more recently gained first rights to buy it from current owner Towne Realty.

-The Bradley Center began planning the renovation of the center as far back as April, 1997, when according to minutes of the board, it agreed to spend $20,000 on consultants to determine if the addition of club seating would be feasible. The center’s executive director David Skiles had already begun visiting other arenas in Vancouver, Seattle and Portland to look at their club seats and other amenities offered to patrons.

-The Bradley Center board passed a resolution in March 2000, to contract with HOK Sports to be the architect of the center’s renovations. HOK, with offices in Kansas City, Australia and England, is the premiere designer of sports arenas, ballparks, stadiums, and university recreational facilities. Its clients include 24 of 30 Major League Baseball franchises, 30 of 32 NFL franchises, 75 professional and civic arena clients, and many others.

-The same resolution declared Milwaukee’s Hammes Company would “facilitate a plan of development” for the center’s renovation. The resolution also stated the center’s goal is “to remain an independent organization reflecting the gift of Jane Pettit in honor of her father.” That goal will be tested as the Bradley Center negotiates to join forces with the Wisconsin Center.

-In 1993, the Bradley Center changed its organization from a traditional non-profit to a special state-chartered entity that operates as a non-profit but no longer has to file 990 forms with the federal government. The annual report it now files with the state provides less information than was required on the 990. For instance, the new report offers no information about top salaries at the Bradley Center. For that matter, though the state law establishing the charter for the Bradley Center requires the minutes of the board “list the actions taken” and “summarize the discussion relating to the actions taken,” there is little or no summary of such discussions. The minutes seemed designed to be as unrevealing as possible.

-David Skiles started as assistant manager of the Bradley Center in 1988 at a salary of $64,125, which was increased to $115,000 when he was promoted to executive director in 1990. His current salary is not available in the annual reports, but a spokesperson for the center says Skiles now earns $200,000.

-The Bradley Center may operate as a public trust, but it rewards people more like a private company. Thus, any employees earning less than $63,000 get a pension contribution equal to four percent of their salary. But those who earn more get four percent of the first $63,000 and eight percent of the rest contributed to their pension. For Skiles, that results in $5,480 extra, increasing his pension to $13,548.

This article was originally published by Milwaukee World.

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