New Moves to Bail Out the Bucks
Bradley Center and business leaders search for a clever way to subsidize the NBA team.
It was nearly 15 years ago, in December 1998, that civic leaders first began launching a plan to radically renovate the BMO Harris Bradley Center in order to generate more revenue for the Milwaukee Bucks. The effort was launched not long after the controversial state law forcing five counties to fund Miller Park had outraged many taxpayers, and it would have been impossible to pass any new bail-out for a pro sports team.
Since then, there have been numerous efforts to revive the issue, generally with Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce president Tim Sheehy as point man. The latest effort involves the creation of a Regional Cultural and Entertainment Capital Needs Task Force, a 45-member task force which will study and make recommendations on the needs and funding of Milwaukee’s “cultural assets” including an NBA arena (either a renovated Bradley Center or an all-new replacement), the Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee Public Museum, Marcus Center for the Performing Arts and Milwaukee County Zoo.
The hope here is to seek regional funding for all of these cultural assets. On paper, the idea makes sense. All of these venues draw the majority of their audience from beyond Milwaukee County, with a heavy number of patrons coming from the surrounding counties. In Denver, a campaign that centered around its zoo passed a multi-county tax that helps support its regional cultural assets that happen to be located in the city.
But this metro area seems far less unified. No county was more angry about the Brewers stadium sales tax than Racine, and its county board is on record — with a unanimous vote — opposing any regional tax to help support the Bradley Center or its replacement or to provide support to expand the Wisconsin Center’s convention space. The Ozaukee County Board recently passed (by a 21-2 vote) a nearly identical resolution, as Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has reported. Sheehy did his best to lobby against the Ozaukee County vote, but got nowhere.
Beyond the problem of a very disunified metro area, there is also the issue of truth-in-advertising. Is this effort really about venues like the zoo or art museum, or is that just a fig leaf covering what is largely a Bucks bailout?
As Rich Kirchen recently reported for the Business Journal, the Bradley Center’s PR consultant Evan Zeppos is getting very involved in the effort to rescue Milwaukee’s regional facilities. Sheehy told Kirchen he views the Bradley Center’s leadership and the MMAC’s community task force as a unified effort. “It’s a partnership with the Bradley Center board,” Sheehy said. “We’re working closely with the Bradley Center.”
Zeppos, ever the politically savvy insider, tried to downplay his and the Bradley Center’s involvement, suggesting they just want to assist the community in its decision making. Meanwhile, we haven’t heard Sheehy say he sees the zoo or art museum as a partner in this effort. The reality is that this is mostly about saving the Bucks franchise, something Sheehy has been working on for many years.
Meanwhile, Sheehy and BMO Harris Bradley Center board chairman Marc Marotta told Kirchen that his board and the MMAC will pay for a study of whether the Bradley Center can be remodeled rather than replaced.
That’s remarkable. The Bradley Center’s leaders rejected this idea years ago because they were convinced renovation would cost nearly as much as a new facility and would yield a less viable NBA arena. The problem, which has long been known, is that the Bradley Center was built more with hockey in mind. (That absurd decision was due to the influence of hockey fan Lloyd Pettit, whose philanthropist wife Jane Pettit later divorced him.) As Marotta noted, the Bradley’s Center’s seating bowl and upper deck were designed for hockey; the very bones of the facility would have to be recast.
The fact that Sheehy and company are going back to the renovation idea suggests they are already worried it won’t be possible to get enough money to build a new facility and are looking for a cheaper option. Good luck with that.
More Controversy Over Common Core Standards
Who is the real Scott Walker? In January 2012 the governor joined up with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers to embrace the “rigorous” new Common Core Standards. The issue was a no-brainer for Walker: from a policy perspective, he could embrace an effort to establish tougher state standards and standardized tests; from a political perspective, he could make himself look bipartisan, embracing Evers (viewed as pro-Democrat) at a time when Walker faced a bitterly partisan recall.
But Walker wants to run for president and has already positioned himself as perhaps the candidate most opposed to Obamacare. The Affordable Care Act is hated by Tea Party Republicans, whose votes will be critical in the GOP presidential primaries.
But the Tea Party has also decided it hates the Common Core standards. So Walker has done a complete flip-flop and now opposes the standards which his own task force embraced back in 2012. “I’d like to have Wisconsin have its own unique standards that I think can be higher than what’s been established,” Walker now says.
But it was Walker who helped establish these standards. As Walker’s task force noted approvingly, “Wisconsin was among the first of 48 states and territories to adopt the Common Core State Standards.” That was back in 2010, and schools throughout the state began remodeling their curriculum to align with the Common Core Standards. Milwaukee Public Schools quickly jumped aboard, beginning a three-year effort to overhaul its curriculum.
Now Walker has been joined by Republican legislative leaders, who’ve announced they will form a committee to review and possibly replace the state standards.
How would you like to be a teacher in a state that is constantly changing what you are supposed to teach? Small wonder veteran teachers begin to tune out when the principal announces the latest new wrinkle in a school’s curriculum. Walker’s flip-flop could be hugely disruptive to the schools.
I doubt the Common Core Standards are perfect. No standards are. And the mania for standardized tests among both Republican and Democratic politicians of the last two decades is a mixed blessing at best for students. But the emphasis on testing and standardized learning is clearly here to stay, and the least we could ask for is that politicians not keep changing the rules. That’s what Walker is doing, in an obvious bid to help his presidential aspirations at the expense of Wisconsin schools and students.