Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

New Moves to Bail Out the Bucks

Bradley Center and business leaders search for a clever way to subsidize the NBA team.

By - Oct 15th, 2013 12:37 pm

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.

BMO Harris Bradley Center

BMO Harris Bradley Center

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.

7 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: New Moves to Bail Out the Bucks”

  1. AndySmith-Brookfield says:

    All these hand-wringing liberals up in arms over trying to: a) Remain a major league city in reputation and marketing ability (they do NOT grasp the value and apparently never will); b) Trying to help ensure a prosperous and vibrant downtown through the draw and impact of a major sports and entertainment complex (perhaps THE single most impactful destination downtown in the future); and, c) STILL resenting Miller Park after fifteen years of construction and use! Liberals demand referenda for any circumstance in which public infrastructure dollars build permanent assets because they view it as welfare for business (businesses that provide jobs and pay huge amounts of taxes). Could we PLEASE have one– just one– referendum on the extravagant liberal spending on stupidity, waste and sloth? How about a referendum on that STUPID TROLLEY? How about a referendum on cutting back every city, county and state agency by 10% . . . exempt police, fire and EMS if you want to . . . but can we ONCE get a handle on the hundreds of millions of dollars that we piss away on generational welfare (2nd, 3rd, 4th generation poverty), child welfare fraud, food stamp fraud, attracting and maintaining the unproductive. And NO– because I know it’s on the leading edge of your thought– I am NOT “blaming the poor” for anything … I am blaming your idiotic, multi-generational support of failed programs that you will NOT even consider reforming. Do you realize how MANY Miller Parks and Arenas and county parks and upgraded streets, libraries, not to mention the number of police and firefighters we could hire with all that money?? Nope. Build the arena and create some JOBS for the poor and disadvantaged? Nope. Too simple– gotta create a labyrinthin, layered, complex, unaccountable government “program” for this, that and every other ‘issue” that liberals think needs to be addressed . . . and it matters NOT how high taxes go for these unproductive uses of public dollars. Milwaukee would be a much better town WITHOUT the Brewers and Miller Park, WITHOUT the Bucks in a new multi-purpose facility, WITHOUT public investment in infrastructure, permanent assets . . . yep, we’d be another Detroit– full of poor, unproductive people who cost society semi-trucks FULL of money, but no economy or quality of life to attract anyone ELSE here or get them to stay. Yeah, I know– I’m blaming the poor again. Nope. That’s just wheelbarrows more of your B.S. rhetoric intended to distract from the real issue of how wrong-headed your non-solutions are. Can we have a few articles, just every now and then, that challenge and question lilberal assumptions, and so-called solutions and the track record of liberal programs and ideas?

  2. Dohnal(Wis. Conservtive Digest says:

    This will never fly. Milwaukee a baseball and football town. We have UWM and marquette with good place to play. Better to tear down the Grand ave , it is all done and try to build combination of apts and retail. Retail changes every 40 years, big box stores are in and Mayfair/Brookfield are in, Northridge dead horse.
    Unless Milwaukee gets more people downtown for retail, people in suburbs are not going down there unless they would have something that the other areas do not have.
    bucks have to practically give away tickets to fill up the place. I have been many places where the rpomos for $5 tickets have come in .

  3. tim haering says:

    The Bucks are Herb Kohl’s team. Yet Kohl, a man worth maybe $220M, is never mentioned when there is talk of saving the Bucks or building them a new venue. He’s not mentioned here either. Am I to gather that Herb Kohl is a slumlord? Let him fix his own team and their ostensibly inadequate venue.

  4. Bruce Thompson says:

    A bit of a quibble on the Common Core: I don’t think Walker had any role in developing them; while the lead role was taken by governors and the business community (IBM in particular), the standards were finished by the time Walker was governor. He did, however, strongly embrace them.

    At the time, opposition came mostly from the far left: people who opposed testing and thought the core would inhibit creativity. A much smaller group opposed them because they felt the common core standards were less rigorous than the best state standards, such as those in California and Massachusetts. However, there was widespread agreement that Wisconsin’s standards were among the worst in the nation, both unchallenging and hopelessly general.

    Recently the extreme left has been joined by the extreme right, which apparently has led to Walker’s (and the legislature’s) cold feet.

  5. Todd Spangler says:

    There are some number of conservatives out there who also question the use of public funds for building facilities for pro sports teams — Jay Weber on WISN-AM still feels it was a mistake to build Miller Park, and he doesn’t seem to be in favor of diverting funds for a new Bucks arena, either. However, I think it’s also true that he is not a big sports fan, either — from my perspective, that’s probably a plus for him, at least as far as conservatives go.

    In St. Louis, there is a degree of regional cooperation in regard to funding the sorts of thing Tim Sheehy is talking about, but there is a differentiation between legitimate cultural institutions, such as the St. Louis Zoo, Missouri History Museum, and St. Louis Art Museum, from venues that are primarily used for pro sports teams, such as the Edward Jones Dome where the St. Louis Rams play. In the case of the EJ Dome, the city, county, and state are currently paying a combined $24 million/year servicing the bonds used to build the facility in the 1990’s and are required to continue with that obligation until the bonds are finally paid off (something like 10 more years). However, that revenue stream is from a separate funding authority created specifically to build the dome.

    At present, St. Louis is in a similar — actually, even worse — position than Milwaukee is because the Rams’ lease at the dome specifies that the facility is to be kept in a top tier (upper 25%) status in relation to other NFL facilities, and unfortunately, nonretractible domes have now gone out of vogue in the NFL. The Edward Jones Dome is currently nowhere close to being in the top quarter of NFL stadiums and is certainly in the bottom half, and perhaps/probably even bottom quarter of NFL venues. The Rams have asked for a $700 million overhaul of the facility to give it more of an open air quality, and at present, the regional leaders have rejected that concept, which will allow the Rams to leave after the 2014-2015 season as things stand. The Rams are a 2nd class team here below the Cardinals, much as the Bucks are a 2nd or even 3rd class team behind both the Packers and probably Brewers. You can effectively argue the case for a Bucks arena both ways — considering the mediocrity of this franchise under Herb Kohl’s ownership, unfortunately, I think it winds up being a very tough sell.

  6. Bruce Murphy says:

    To Tim: This was just an update of past columns I’ve done. I have written in the past about Herb Kohl and the fact that the value of the Bucks franchise has risen 16-fold since he bought it in 1985. You’ll find one such story here:
    Kohl has said he will contribute to a new facility, but has never said how much. I think that should continue to be part of the discussion here.

  7. MKElocal says:

    Marquette Law & the Journal Sentinel hosted a conference on a new sports and entertainment center last April ( The big take away is that public funds will NOT be available. This came from both Republican and Democratic elected officials. Many point to Oklahoma City as an example Milwaukee should follow. Since we don’t have a cluster of Fortune 100 energy companies clustered downtown, I’m not sure we can do what OKC did.

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us