Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

10 Reasons To Build Bucks Arena on Wisconsin Ave.

Building the new arena where Boston Store is located could have huge advantages for the team and the city.

By - Oct 8th, 2014 06:42 pm
Sketch D removes the Boston Store, but has a major entry plaza to the NW facing the Hilton Hotel. This plan then has an atrium along Wisconsin Ave. that can be entered from the new NW Plaza, Wisconsin Ave., the skywalk system, and from the Grand Avenue Atrium. Plans by Jim Shields.

Sketch D removes the Boston Store, but has a major entry plaza to the NW facing the Hilton Hotel. This plan then has an atrium along Wisconsin Ave. that can be entered from the new NW Plaza, Wisconsin Ave., the skywalk system, and from the Grand Avenue Atrium. Plans by Jim Shields.

In the mid-1980s, Milwaukee was essentially handed a free pro basketball arena by philanthropist Jane Pettit. The idea, however, was that it would be built near County Stadium, then the Milwaukee Brewers’ baseball stadium.

Mayor Henry Maier soon called a press conference and announced he opposed the location, insisting the arena must be built Downtown. Maier took a lot of flak from the media, business leaders and the like, for daring to look a gift horse in the mouth. Yet, for weeks on end, he pounded away at the importance of a Downtown arena. And ultimately, Maier got his way.

Some 30 years later Mayor Tom Barrett, periodically criticized as a weak leader, has a chance to show it’s not true. He can boldly come out in support of the proposal that maximizes the private and (likely) public investment going into this project and offers the greatest return for the city. Right now, the most intriguing solution is to build the new Bucks arena at 4th and Wisconsin.

The idea for this was hatched by Mike Mervis of Zilber Ltd., and it strikes me as an ingenious one. Mervis contacted architect Jim Shields and asked him to scope out the location. “I was kind of shocked by the idea,” Shields says, “but I sat down and did the drawings and very quickly got convinced.” He found the footprint of the mostly empty block from 4th St. to 5th St. and between Michigan and Wisconsin was big enough to fit the recently-built Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the new Sacramento arena. But the design would be even roomier and more powerful, if the land under 4th St. and the Boston Store building was also used, meaning that structure would be razed.

Think about the proposal and you’ll begin to see how many problems it solves, and how many opportunities it presents, for both the city and the basketball franchise.

1.It will revive the Grand Avenue Mall and W. Wisconsin Avenue. What was once the heart of Milwaukee’s Downtown has been a veritable ghost town for at least 15 years, with empty storefronts on the street and a declining and increasingly empty mall. Nobody has been able to solve the problem. Suddenly both the avenue and mall would be connected to a pretty steady flow of fans attending Bucks games, Golden Eagle games, Milwaukee Admiral fans and high-profile concerts.

2. It’s a Real Estate Opportunity for the Bucks. Right now the deteriorating Grand Avenue mall is available for a fire sale price. And it would stand right next to the new Bucks arena under this plan. The mall will be sold at auction and Shields suggests the city buy it and then resell it to the Bucks owners at cost. The team’s co-owner Wes Edens has broad experience in real estate and could transform the mall into a place with Bucks-themed apparel shop, bars, restaurants and whatever else the franchise needs, while also injecting life into the mall.

3. It’s the Most Exciting Possible Location: It’s the heart of the city, the heart of Downtown, it’s far more accessible to tourists, across from the Convention Center, next to the Grand Avenue Mall, just one block from both the Hyatt Regency and Hilton Hotels and closer to the Pfister Hotel than the Bradley Center, and within walking distance of Marquette University students, who attend Golden Eagles games.

4. Parking is Plentiful: The Grand Avenue Mall has about 3,500 parking spots and within a couple blocks are 9,000 more parking spots, Mervis and Shields estimate, mostly in covered lots like in the federal building (320 W. Wisconsin), at 100 E. Water St., at 105 W. Michigan, etc., and much of the parking is connected via skywalks. (And for those who don’t have cars, there may be no street better connected to the bus system.)

5. It’s a Much Cheaper Solution: Less space and money for parking (which typically cost about $25,000 per spot) would be needed. Less land would be needed for spin-off retail because the Grand Avenue could provide that. Less subsidy by taxpayers might be needed.

6. It Solves the Boston Store Problem: The downtown retailer is a white elephant that is so unsuccessful the city has agreed to pay it a subsidy of $1.2 million over four years if its owner Bon Ton Stores keeps the dying store open. How about investing in success instead? As Mervis notes, Bon Ton could move its corporate home office (also located in the building) and any developer in town would jump at the chance to create a development with the company as an anchor tenant. And Bon Ton clearly isn’t very interested in keeping Boston Store open.

7. It Would Be a Boon to Marquette University: MU has recently announced it will expand its campus, for the first time moving to the east of the psychological barrier of I-43, by purchasing about 7 acres in the 800 block of W. Michigan St., bringing MU much closer to the heart of Downtown. Right now the university buses its students to Golden Eagles games at the Bradley Center, but they could simply walk down Wisconsin Ave. to games. “It will be like having an arena on their campus,” Mervis says. MU president Michael Lovell, a source tells me, has met with the Bucks owners to say he favors an arena on Wisconsin Ave.

8. It Maximizes Local Investment: “We’ve had a 27 year experiment with the Bradley Center, with the idea it would attract retail,” Shields notes. But it never happened. “Quite the contrary, I think you’ve seen deterioration over the years,” he adds. Building an NBA Arena in the neighborhood of the Bradley Center, he notes, means using public and private funding “to essentially build a second retail mall 8 blocks north of Grand Avenue, with a food court, an NBA jersey shop, and other retail.” The result could be two malls that fail. Why not combine them and create one success?

9. It Maximizes Visibility: Ask yourself, is there anything exciting about the current location of the Bradley Center? Would it be any more exciting a block north? By contrast, 4th and Wisconsin is as urban and connected as you can get. The arena would actually be visible from the freeway, and located on the city’s paramount street, a beautiful avenue created to be the place for parades and foot traffic. Imagine, says Shields, the street is closed off for one hour before each Golden Eagles game, so MU students can march down to see their team. Locating the arena on the city’s main street would be a statement of pride in our Downtown, pride in our NBA team and pride in the City of Milwaukee.

10. It’s a Faster, More Practical Solution: The Bucks owners want a quick solution. Time is money. Land near the Bradley Center, whether its the old Ambrosia Chocolate site or the Journal Sentinel building, could have environmental problems that can be costly and slow to fix. The Journal company’s ownership is in flux, which could cause complications. There will be no such problems on Wisconsin Avenue. Much of the land in question is owned by the city, with a parking garage owned by Mervis’s Zilber Ltd. company and the owner of the Boston Store building, We Energies, has indicated a willingness to facilitate a deal. Since this proposal was announced, Bon Ton hasn’t expressed any objection.  And the city already has a Tax Incremental Financing plan in place for the Grand Avenue area that could be reconfigured for a new arena development.

I asked Tim Sheehy, President of the Metro Milwaukee Association of Commerce, a leader in the effort to find public funding for the new arena, to comment on the proposal. “Any site that marries catalytic urban development, with a footprint that allows for a functional wow-factor building is a site that should receive consideration,” he said.

Is there any down side to this proposal? Undoubtedly. There always are. Some in town are concerned the total footprint of land on Wisconsin Ave. is not sufficient. But the reality is we haven’t even gotten to discussing the possible negatives here because there’s been so little discussion of this proposal.

Where is Barrett’s leadership on this issue? The mayor has already said he would prefer a site as close to Wisconsin Ave. as possible. Well, you can’t get any closer than this proposal.

If Barrett thinks the idea doesn’t work, he should say so. This project is happening on his turf and his is the most important voice in the city. If, on the other hand, he thinks it’s worth pursuing, why not say so? Were Maier alive, he would be urging the mayor to seize the day.

Four Plans by Jim Shields


53 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: 10 Reasons To Build Bucks Arena on Wisconsin Ave.”

  1. Nicholas says:

    What of the Boston Store Lofts?

  2. PMD says:

    I don’t attend Bucks games and don’t really know anyone who does. Is a major complaint from those attending games that there is no place to go before or after a game? Would making Grand Ave. more Bucks-themed draw more people to the mall? Does it cause people from the burbs to spend more time downtown before or after a game? What exactly are people hoping for in terms of new development resulting from a new home for the Bucks? More sports bars? More restaurants? More retail? All of the above as long as it’s something?

  3. Dave Reid says:

    @Nicholas Good point. This is clearly one of the issues with this idea. The Boston Store Lofts has 74 high-end apartments, that from what I can see are close to full.

  4. Jerad says:

    Precisely what Nicholas asks. What about the Boston Lofts? Who says Mandel would be willing to sell? They spent $36 million in 2002 to completely renovate the building ($47 million in today’s money) How cost effective would it really be to have to purchase that building, only to have to pay to demolish it. Also, with the seating bowl, how to you place the arena over 3rd Street? It was have to be raised higher, which would mean higher costs.

    I’d love to see the arena here, but there’s no way you could fit an arena in the empty lot alone.

    “He found the footprint of the mostly empty block from 4th St. to 5th St. and between Michigan and Wisconsin was big enough to fit the recently-built Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the new Sacramento arena.” –> This is just false. Compare the lot side by side, at the same distance on Google Maps/Earth, and you’ll see a modern arena would not fit in soley the lot.

    Invigorating the Grand Avenue Mall would be fantastic, there’s a ton of questions that surround this site though. It’s not as easy, and cost effective as you make it out to be.

  5. Brook says:

    I like these ideas a lot! It would be great to remove a huge, mostly empty property and build the arena there. What would become of the Bradley Center however?

    Also, Mr. Shields needs to spell Plankinton correctly and Mr. Murphy needs to correct the spelling of Ambrosia.

  6. Bruce Murphy says:

    Thanks, Brook, I corrected spelling error in my story.

  7. Nicholas says:

    If the parking structure behind the lot were removed as well, could an arena not fit on that city block?

  8. Dave Reid says:

    @Brook I’ll just point out that yes the garage and surface lot are yes in my view largely empty. The Boston Store is not. 700 employees in Bon Ton’s corporate HQ, 74 apartments that are almost full, and yes Boston Store.

  9. Dave, I think Bruce covered your point about Boston Store etc. in his article. It would be an opportunity them to set up shop some place other than a morbid mall.

    Yes, Barry Mandel would sell.

    Yes, a few people would have to move to new Barry Mandel project bigger and better somewhere close by.

    If you take the idea seriously that a large civic project cannot displace 74 apartments….. well, that is odd, to say the least.
    Do you think Rockefeller Center was plunked down on an empty lot in the middle of New York City? Or the Roman Coliseum, Northwestern Mutual complex, and so on. That is just the way cities grow, if they do at all.

    Developing West Wisconsin Avenue will make the Park East more valuable, but not the other way around.

  10. Tim says:

    Why not put the new arena in the big parking lot between Plankington & 2nd Street, south of the Grand Ave parking structure. Attach skywalks to the Grand Ave and any new neighboring development… done.

    There are many redevelopment opportunities nearby and you wouldn’t have to go outside to get to the Convention Center.

    What more does anyone want?

  11. Jeremy says:

    Best site…Plankinton and Michigan. Demolish the absurd eyesore of a building on the southeast corner between Plankinton and the river. Utilize the mostly surface lot land to the west of Plankinton. Still close enough to Grand Ave and Wisconsin Ave to be a revitalizer…heck renovate the structure to the north to physically connect the new arena to the mall over Michigan. Incorporate the river walk into the development….let’s think big ideas here.

    Easy access on and off 794 and incredible visibility, closer to 3rd Ward…on and on….

    That nasty building is privately owned too…but a whole heck of a lot more obligated to be demolished than the Boston properties. The Boston Store etc. is a great urban building that I would hate to see go…would be a shame especially if a better solution could maintain it.

  12. J says:

    Tim you beat me to it!

  13. Dave Reid says:

    @Tom An opportunity or a cost? Moving the 700 white collar jobs will not save money, it will cost the city money. It will likely need a TIF to build a new HQ, or they end up in the burbs or even leave the region completely. And supposing that they could be kept in the city it would likely help make the project take longer, not shorter.

    To be clear it is Wispark that owns Boston Lofts, Mandel manages it. But yes I’m sure We Energies would appreciate the check (I hear they are hurting). It should also be noted that it wasn’t long ago they spent $36 million here.

    Certainly, a large civic project can displace 74 apartments, but they are one of the issues that needs to be addressed. Moving them possibly adds time and cost to the project. And what the area needs is more people living there, not less.

    That said, I find ‘urban renewal’ styled ideas odd to say the least.

    Oh yeah and as our readers have aptly already pointed out, it likely doesn’t fit. Or if it can be squeezed in, it will add cost to the project.

  14. Jerad says:

    @Thomas I agree that the overall impact on the existing buildings is easily worth a new arena. What I’m trying to get at, more so, is that it seems like there is added costs with this option that you won’t find at other available locations. I agree with Tim and Jeremey, the best site by far is Plankinton and Michigan. They hit every point on the head.

  15. Jerad says:


  16. Peter Zanghi says:

    Great article Bruce, I think it raises a lot of good points. I’m in favor of putting the arena north of Kilbourn, but there are certainly advantages to this site as you mentioned.

    The main problem with putting the arena at 4th and Wisconsin is that what becomes West Wisconsin Avenue’s gain becomes the rest of Westown’s loss. I think many are more concerned with how to dress up this street than we are with how to improve Westown as a whole, which needs all the help it can get. If you remove the arena from its current location, that essentially leaves four entire blocks bound by Juneau, State, 4th, and 5th as vacant land. This would be in addition to the adjacent and yet-to-be-developed Park East encompassing nearly as much vacant land.

    What becomes of all that? If the arena isn’t considered a traffic driver now, imagine what this area will be like with its main anchor gone. I’m not claiming this land won’t get developed eventually, but losing the arena certainly won’t add any momentum.

    We have to consider the opportunity cost: making West Wisconsin Ave stronger comes at expense of making rest of Westown weaker.

  17. Andy says:

    The above plan looks amazing and does have a lot of positives to it. However, I have a major point of contention with this plan as laid out. If a major value add of a new arena is that it can attract more retail, entertainment and people in general to downtown, why in the work would we chase away a large retailer and potentially a corporate HQ? I fail to see why Bon Ton wouldn’t just consolidate their HQ in York if this were to happen.

    Instead of being a catalyst for West town, we would instead chase a large employer and retailer out of town.

  18. mike mervis says:

    FYI everyone..Barry does not own the Boston store lofts..the Boston Store building is owned by a Sub of Wisconsin Electric or It’s Wispark Sub. And get serious. Office space is readily available and good deals can be had does NOT have to get in the middle the “Market Place” (What an unususal concept) will solve the issue of new space for Bon-Ton in a blink.

  19. Andy says:

    Mike Mervis, Boston Store has occupied that building for over 100 years. It is the historical home and heart of the chain. Bon Ton currently operates a network of three corporate Headquarters. We are barely holding onto the one in Milwaukee and it’s 700+ jobs.

    Moving a HQ is no small feat. Rarely would a company with such a rich history in a building easily give it up. Why don’t we ask NML to leave their Historic HQ building (which they’ve occupied for 3 years less than Boston Store/Bon Ton has in their building)? Further, who is going to pay for them to move? Is the city? That expense will most likely be greater than the subsidy we are giving them now.

    This all goes back to one of Bruce Murphy’s points. “The Boston Store problem” is not a problem at all… it’s an attempt to fight the real problem. If I have a hole in my roof I don’t say the problem is the tarp to cover the hole… it’s the hole itself. In this case, Bon Ton is helping fill in the hole/problem that is our faltering West Town.

  20. Gary Witt says:

    Here’s the crazy thing. The person the Mayor put in charge of revitalizing West Wisconsin Ave, seemingly was one of the only ones to say it wasn’t a good idea to locate the arena on… (WAIT FOR IT)… West Wisconsin Ave.

    Stephen Chernof, who created WAM DC LLC, a nonprofit, private development group hoping to come up with new development plans for downtown’s west side, said Friday a potential arena at N. 4th St. and W. Wisconsin Ave., would be a “very tight fit.”

    “And it doesn’t leave development space around it,” Chernof said in an email.

  21. PMD says:

    How much space exactly is required for a new area? What’s the size of recent new NBA arenas? I’m sure things have changed since the Bradley Center was built.

  22. Dave Reid says:

    @PMD Good question.

  23. Claude Krawczyk says:

    Kudos to Bruce for generating more public discussion on this intriguing possibility. I too think 4th & Wisconsin is the best site available, but only if we can clear several hurdles. First, it should be very easy for another architect (or several) to look at the footprint of the Boston Store site, add 4th Street (vacated or elevated over the street like the convention center at Wells Street) and add the entire block to the west in order to either confirm or correct Mr. Shields conclusions. If we past that simple test, the next hurdle is a little higher. The city must get a definitive answer from Bon Ton soon regarding their future plans. Are they willing to move both the store and the corporate office to another site in town–perhaps behind the ICC in the 3rd Ward, together with a new Marcus multiplex cinema, where downtown’s new shopping district continues to grow? Or are they planning to close the store and move the corporate office in a few years after their lease expires regardless? If the answer is yes to either question, 4th & Wisconsin is far superior to any other possible location. If the answer is that Boston Store/Bon Ton wants to stay at their present building for the long-term future and is willing to commit the resources to make that work, then they should stay. Of course there is another possibility for expanding the 4th & Wisconsin footprint while keeping Boston Store/Bon Ton in place–build it across Michigan Street and remove the long vacant Blue Cross building instead.

  24. Mike says:

    Besides the sensible reasons cited, the location is good for position, proximity and purpose. That location/position connects the entertainment footprint of MKE. It is close to MU, the MKE Theatre, UWM Arena,The Pabst Theatre, Marcus Center, Water Street, Old World Third Street, Hyatt, Hilton, future Couture, the Lakefront and the Third Ward.
    It has the advantage of being a short distance to the freeway on and off ramps, bus lines and parking. The primary purpose to serve as a site for the MKE Bucks expands to include turning lame-land-real estate into a productive, energized destination, a centerpiece of the entertainment district and a puts a shine on Wisconsin Avenue. Altogether, a good example of development of resources without degradation to the existing social environment.

  25. Dudemeister says:

    A pretty good idea – it seems to have bring more positives than negatives if it can be done. I like the idea of its proximity to the front of the convention center. What they could do is stretch one of those huge crosswalks from 4th to 5th St and make that a very pedestrian-friendly area (especially with that plaza in Sketch D).

    We would, however, be losing a really-not-bad historic structure or two. Maybe the facades could be worked into the arena design?

    And Bon Ton could certainly find more apt office space if required to move. They may leave town altogether, of course, but I doubt the execs are unreasonably sentimental about that building, especially if they want to close the actual store located within.

    Man, if this is done, what an urban arena! That would add so much density and leave a Chicago-esque impression on out-of-towners.

  26. Steve says:

    I like the ideas. I would love to see downtown get a little more lively. “maximizes the private and (likely) public investment”
    Does anyone think there will be any public assistance for this? Everyone I talk to about this hates the idea. I doubt Tom Barrett will be influential in helping with that. He’s no Henry Maier.

  27. Patrick says:

    Typical Milwaukee. We bring up a good idea that could potentially transform half its downtown and people are worried about 70 apartments being lost in an area that has empty apartments everywhere. I’m surprised I don’t read people complaining about the potential horrible lose for that parking lot on Wisconsin Avenue as well. Since Kohls passed on downtown for their HQ expansion why don’t they instead open up a flagship store near Grand Avenue. Something a little more unique than one of their typical stores and one the city/company could take pride in.

  28. Andy says:

    Patrick, it is not about boston lofts apartments, it is about the loss of Boston Store and Bon Tons corp HQ with its 700+ jobs. Those jobs may likely leave town when their historic HQ, which they have occupied for over 100 years, is torn down. It’s the only reason Bon Ton maintains a split HQ between York, Dayton and Milwaukee.

  29. Jeremy L says:

    This is ok. I prefer the demolition of the Theater and UWM Arena. It can tie in well with the City of Milwaukee redevelopment plan for Kilbourn Ave and Pere Marquette Park. It’s an opportunity to expand the Wisconsin Center, reclaim the dead park space of MacArthur Square and connect the West side of Kilbourn Ave to Milwaukee City Hall and Red Arrow Park. I envision a Winter outdoor area that could host hockey games & a winter carnival. It’s perfect because it’s close enough to the businesses that capitalized on the BMO Bradley Center location and near enough to add development to Wisconsin Ave.

  30. tim haering says:

    Bruce, lotsa comments. this must be a hot topic, eh? Now, Boston Store? That’s attached to Grand Avenue Mall, isn’t it? Can you tell I haven’t lived in Milwaukee for 2 decades? If it is still attached, turn the Grand Ave. into the new Potawatomi and you got a real urban entertainment magnet. There’s your “functional wow-factor building.”

  31. Steve Fil says:

    For the new arena to serve as a catalyst, a tight fit can be a good fit. The design that retains the Boston Store building would insert the new arena into a closely knit built environment, where nearby existing buildings would become prime candidates for private-market renovation and upgrades.

    Shields’ work appears to show that a Barclay’s style arena could fit between the Boston Store and Milwaukee Hilton buildings, assuming the old parking deck comes down. Why then supersize the project by sacrificing a landmark building (Boston Store) that has some attractive live-work-play characteristics, admittedly alongside some questions about the long-term plans of some tenants?

    If a new arena makes 4th and Wisconsin a hot location, doesn’t that make Bon-Ton feel better about keeping its offices there and perhaps even about running a more competitive store there? And if not Bon-Ton and Boston Store, look at what Target did with its City Target store in the old Carson Pirie Scott department store building> on State Street in Chicago. Overall, 4th and Wisconsin is an exciting site for this arena. But Dave may be right in evoking the specter of urban renewal here: let’s be cautious about a more grandiose and highly subsidized plan that takes valuable real estate off the table.

  32. PMD says:

    I haven’t seen the Barclay’s Arena in person, but isn’t it pretty large? It sure looks big in photos.

    Have the owners talked about a model for success they are using as a template here? I know supporters used to cite Oklahoma City as a model, a place where the arena was built and development followed. I know they talk a good game, but is there any reason to doubt their sincerity when they state their devotion to keeping the team here? It’s already late 2014. At what point does it become easier to just move the Bucks elsewhere?

  33. How about Pabst Farms? You’re asking the surrounding counties to pay for it. How about building it out there?

  34. Tim says:

    We’ll talk about Pabst Farms after Waukesha County votes for a .5% sales tax to fund it. Otherwise, we might as well talk about putting it on the moon.

  35. Gary says:

    I like it! Attached to, or very close, hotel space, convention center, right near the Riverside and Water St, Old World 3rd st. Perhaps The Grand becomes more than what it is now?

    Yah, I get it. It isn’t a guarantee this will sustain the shops and such in the area. It will jump start it by the newness and perhaps take on a life of it’s own.

    It’s time to squint into the future to see what it can be instead of the old “this is how it’s always been” that has held back Milwaukee at various times in it’s history.

  36. Lee Barczak says:

    This is an incredible idea that could change the face and feel of West Wisconsin Avenue! I think that this should become one of the major pushes as a way to futher encourage real growth on Wisconsin Avenue and in a part of Milwaukee that could become as lively and exciting as the areas east of the river have become. I would love to have the opportunity to bring a Neighborhood Theater Group movie theater to The Grand Avenue as part of such an exciting development. With a mix of sports, movies and restaurants, other merchants would soon follow. Kudos to Mike Mervis for the vision and insight to take a great idea and get it into the public’s eye. I hope Mayor Barrett leads the charge here because it seems this could be a great part of the legacy he leaves us. Bruce, keep an eye on this and please do not let it fall out of the spotlight!

    Lee Barczak

    Owner, The Rosebud, The Times and The Avalon Theaters

  37. partypanther says:

    Seems like a decent idea, but there’s just too much compromise and complication for it to work: the site isn’t large enough(or just barely), you would lose apartments, you would lose the Boston Store store, you would lose the Boston Store headquarters. It would also require meticulous deconstruction of that building and then a new façade on an already ailing grand avenue mall. Barriers would include the need for the city or the Bucks to buy the mall, the 4th and Wisconsin site, and the Wispark apartments. All of these things would take far too long and far too much money to be practical.

    The most practical idea is to build it where the Milwaukee Theater and Panther arena are. At the same time, we should make the Wisconsin center much larger and have it connected to the new Arena. This way we could use the new Arena in conjunction with convention center and attract much larger events in Milwaukee. Once everything is done, they should knock down the Bradley Center, as well. With all of the cost reductions, maybe we could get rid of some of the hotel tax!

  38. Rose says:

    If it hasn’t already done so, this Wisconsin Avenue idea should be pitched again to a broader Milwaukee audience. I like the Wisconsin Avenue idea. Anything that helps perk up The Grand Avenue (an embarrassment) and West Wisconsin Avenue is a great idea!


    1. It would sadden me to see any historical building tore down to build an arena or anything for that matter.

    2. What about the fact that the Boston Store building is sinking due to the deep tunnel project? Is that a factor in building an arena in this space?

    3. Don’t AGAIN cram spectators into tiny arena seats. The upper level Bradley Center seats are dizzying and uncomfortable and I’m tall, thin and agile. When I sit up there, my knees are smashed up against the seat in front of me. Unfortunately, Milwaukeeans, Midwesterners and AMERICANS are getting bigger and bigger. We all know it. Sad, but true. We’re bigger than we were when the Bradley Center opened. How many of the decision-makers have sat in the more affordable upper level seats for a 3-hour event? Give it a try once.

    Also, using the Barclays isn’t the best example. Below are some of recent on-line reviews about the uncomfortable seating:

    “Seats are incredibly narrow; pushing past people makes me feel like I could tip over and tumble down the rows any second. For sporting events (basketball), it gets pretty hard to see when you’re sitting in the upper level. Prices, however, skyrocket in the lower level.”

    “Not enough room in the seats, way too narrow. With this issue the person sitting in front of me kept bumping with his elbow. Thats how close we were.”

    “I also found the seats to be really crowded. Any time someone in the middle aisle needed to get out, there’s was no way to just stand up and let them squeeze by. You actually had to get up and get into the aisle so they can get out. Since we had aisle seats, we wound up sitting and standing like 50 times. It was a basketball game for god sakes, not a church service!”

  39. Jim Pease says:

    I’m completely on board with this site. With apologies to those who live there, losing the BS lofts is a small price to pay, the BS building is sinking, the retail store is little more than an experimental showroom and Bon Ton has shown very little dedication to staying put. They don’t have to move out of the city; they can move across the street to the Blue Cross building and the city should help them do it. The impact this site would have on the west side of downtown is immeasurable. It would add to the Convention Center and rejuvenate Grand Avenue.

    But if I could add just one thing to the wish list, it would be including renovation of the Warner Theater as part of the project for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Having a symphony hall on one side and a new arena on the other would be spectacular.

  40. Dave Reid says:

    @Claude You actually point out one of my concerns. I’m assuming these plans require the ‘vacation’ of 4th St, as raising it up would add costs to the project. So the cheaper option presents a troubling urban planning issue. Wisconsin Ave. already is a superblock, and this would make it into a massive multiple-block superblock which, well, isn’t a desirable design aspect if you intend to encourage walkability. If you actually want a vibrant successful (retail and so on) Wisconsin Ave. then this actually hurts. NOTE: Portland (see the power of small blocks) and Jane Jacobs (explains the pitfalls of superblocks).

  41. Claude Krawczyk says:

    Great point Dave. This is the beauty of a public discussion (which we never really had over Miller Park’s site). I hadn’t given any thought to to the concern you raised, but I agree that pedestrian accessibility should remain a primary focus of any downtown development. So the question is, does an elevated arena over 4th Street really add substantial cost? I’m also interested in feedback on the idea of extending the arena site south over Michigan (instead of east), and taking down the vacant Blue Cross building instead of Boston Store. That seems to address so many concerns regarding this plan, but I’m sure there are issues with that idea as well. Let’s hear them.

  42. Michael James says:

    Downtown arenas / stadiums are, for perhaps 95 percent of the time, huge dead spots within cities (except of course for the couple hours before a game / event). Housing will revitalize downtown west of the river, not an arena (it does look like several new apartment developments are in the works!). While I realize ‘anecdote is not data,’ I would personally be far less likely to live around 4th and WI if there was an arena next to me… I’d much rather have a cool coffee shop and bar (and I’m guessing most people would feel the same way). I remember a rendering from several months ago that had the new arena just north of the BC location, and the BC was torn down and replaced with some open space and some other buildings – I think that’s my favorite option so far.

  43. judith ann moriarty says:

    Lest we forget…Mike Mervis is way more than a big time deal maker…go sit in the charming little pocket park (at the west end of Brady Street), and you’ll see what Mervis and McCormack hath wrought. The City gave them the triangular parcel (a trashed area before the two M’s arrived), and the magical M’s and a landscaper, transformed it into a serene space, smack dab in the middle of a very busy intersection. They maintain the place too. It wasn’t long ago that I saw Mervis down on his knees watering and weeding this bit of paradise.

  44. Dave Reid says:

    @Michael James Agreed. Housing is what Westown needs (and unfortunately this plan actually removes housing). And as you point out the vast majority of the time there will be nothing going on at this facility and when it is open will generally be at night. So how it helps retail I really don’t know. I would say that the Bradley Center helps the bars on Old 3rd / Water but hasn’t shown any ability to help retail.

  45. Matthew says:

    I think a better site for a new arena would be on the block bounded by W. Clybourn St, W Michigan St, N 2nd St, and N Plankinton Ave. This large site is almost entirely a surface parking lot with a small parking ramp on one corner. It fronts the freeway with ramps which exit/enter on both sides of it. The site is a block away from Wisconsin Ave, A block away from the proposed streetcar route, and is adjacent to several large parking ramps. Activating this block with a strong anchor could serve to bridge the gap between east town, west town, and the third ward. The site is a 5 minute walk to Amtrak/greyhound bus depot. Developing the site an an arena would not displace any existing businesses or residences, and it could serve an an anchor to extend the Plankinton Ave shopping district south, and provide new life opportunists for more storefront developments in the adjacent blocks.

  46. Steve Fil says:

    Traditional basketball barns are inactive much of the time and sit dark and dormant like the Bradley Center. But current arenas are designed with lots of street-friendly atrium, retail and restaurant spaces of their own, so they can function much more as 24/7 — or at least 18/7 — draws. With these design features, a new arena could be expected to give even daytime retail and restaurant trade on West Wisconsin a decent boost, although the point is taken that it’s no silver bullet.

    And Dave brings up an important consideration regarding superblocks. The Westown neighborhood already has more than its share of large-footprint projects that sit on megablocks created by closing former city streets. The Grand Avenue gobbled up part of Third Street. The convention center sits on part of 5th Street. The Bradley Center consumed part of Highland. And then there’s Macarthur Square, which gobbled up Kilbourn, 8th and 9th streets. Having accommodated far fewer such megaprojects, East Town and the Third Ward have fine-grained blocks that are more inviting for pedestrian activity and small-parcel private redevelopment.

    So if a new arena on West Wisconsin winds up closing part of 4th street, how about doing something novel — re-opening Third Street as part of an effort to transform the Grand Avenue from a mall back into a city neighborhood?

  47. Chris Jacobs says:

    I’m not seeing the connection between an arena and retail at all, and I don’t see many examples of it happening anywhere else. Who shops before a major event? There is zero retail near Miller Park. Why bother with a connection to the theater either? Are you going to see a show and then go to a game? Not even possible in most circumstances. An arena there might spur some interest for nearby bars, restaurants, and minimally for hotels. I don’t see how using public money to be a boon for private MU students is much of a priority either. Traffic on Wisconsin avenue leading up to the freeway would be a nightmare after games.

  48. Yance says:

    Those are certainly ten reasons. I don’t think any of them are very good reasons to consider that location.
    1. I fail to see the connection. Bucks fans are also die-hard mall supporters? I guess if the mall was filled with sports stores but I don’t think Nikavonni’s is going to be packed with Buck’s fans after the game.
    2. I agree with you there. Any free ride is win-win.
    3. It is an exciting location with potential but not for an arena that sits empty much of the time.
    4. Parking is plentiful all around downtown. It would be more impressive if other transportation options were also plentiful. A light rail to the door like in Tampa would be ideal.
    5. No solution will be cheaper for the taxpayers unless some big donors can be found. If somebody wants to bankroll the entire project, let them build it wherever they want.
    6. How is this even a reason? Solving problems by demolishing them? Seriously Bruce?
    7. MU students do walk to the Bradley Center. In my day we walked two miles to school in the middle of winter. Seriously we did.
    8. Or building the new Bucks arena next to the Mall could turn the mall into the desert that exists around the Bradley Center. The Bradley Center demolished a perfectly good McDonalds and since then McDonalds disappeared from downtown. Cause and effect?
    9. Visibility does not create excitement. The Bucks are supposed to do that without any fancy arena. The area around 4th & Wisconsin deserves better than a huge building that remains vacant throughout most of the year. The Wisconsin Center already does a good job at that.
    10. You can’t force a good solution by imposing a tight deadline. Ambrosia Chocolate wasn’t a Superfund site. I seriously doubt there is any expensive remediation requirements. IMHO, a better site would be at Lovell & Michigan where there is a nice empty spot just ripe for development. Vacate 8th Street, south of Michigan and tear down an ugly insurance building to the west. The footprint would be much better and you have adjacent highway access so that frightened suburban Buck’s fans can get outta Dodge before they get mugged. You could extend a spur of the streetcar to the mall so that Buck’s fans could get a nice pair of shoes at Nikavonni’s and everyone would be happy. Leave Butch’s Old Casino in place and you already have a food venue for hungry sports fans.

  49. Tom says:

    Say no to the new arena. Have you ever heard of a 30-year-old building needing repairs so bad that it needs to be replaced entirely? Especially a building that isn’t used every single day and consists mostly of seats, open air, and hallways? This is what the NBA (and to a lesser extent, the MLB, NHL, and NFL) does – holds ailing cities for ransom by demanding that they build new arenas or lose the team in the future.

    Arenas are generally very unrelatable, monolithic structures. They are not endearing, or particularly beautiful. And when you’re watching the actual basketball game, you aren’t concerned about the rest. Building a new arena for millions and millions won’t change the bucks. People who otherwise wouldn’t go to a game will come see one Bucks game, if we’re lucky. It certainly won’t make the team a national contender in what is a very unfair professional sport. It won’t make Milwaukee’s downtown more incredible – remember, a new arena will make the old arena near-useless. What will happen to the neighborhood around the current arena when a new one is built? Will it suffer at West Wisconsin’s gain? Then we’ll just have an older, even more underutilized arena and another area in need of revitalization.

    Building a new one in the middle of an area that is just starting to become a desirable residential area seems bizarre. Why not turn that parking lot into a park that would anchor the neighborhood? Or wait for a new apartment project to move in on the space, with retail options on the first floor? Why not spend the untold millions of dollars on something to beautify the city, rather than hand out money to a multi-million dollar franchise run by a massive national corporation? Why abandon a working arena to move it a few blocks away in the hopes that Grand Avenue can be turned into a giant Bucks gift shop?

    I hope we don’t get tricked into thinking that we need a new arena. And 30 years down the line, I hope we don’t get tricked again.

  50. Daniel says:

    No welfare for sports billionaires!

  51. Tom says:

    Are there still plans to close down the St Paul St USPS? And if so is that building being considered as an option? Seems like a logical place, next to the train station, on the street car route. The property is large enough to hold an arena and parking and then some.

  52. Dave Reid says:

    @Tom I believe the plan to move to Oak Creek was cancelled. Not to say they couldn’t move somewhere else but I don’t believe the move (to anywhere else) is happening in the near future.

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