Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

We Must Imitate Other Cities

New study says we must build a Bucks arena and bigger convention center. But its data actually tells a much different story.

By - May 19th, 2015 01:17 pm
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Wisconsin Center. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Wisconsin Center. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Hunden Strategic Partners thinks big. The Chicago-based company helps cities with the development of huge projects, like convention centers, sports facilities and entertainment districts, as its website notes. Inevitably its findings are about aping other cities, with little regard for what it might cost taxpayers, and that’s essentially what its new study on Milwaukee offers.

The study warns that we mustn’t lose the Milwaukee Bucks, must increase the size of our convention center and must build a new hotel nearby with at least 800 to 1,000 rooms. Yet its analysis of where Milwaukee has succeeded, in areas like the Third Ward, Brady Street and Milwaukee Street’s restaurant row, concludes this activity has nothing do with the convention center, Bucks, or hotels near the convention center. Even Water’s Street’s vibrant bar scene, the study says, is too far from the convention center to matter.

That’s not to say the study doesn’t offer some interesting information. But as a road map to how Milwaukee can rejuvenate Downtown, it strikes me as unhelpful, contradictory and blind to its own contradictions.

The report was commissioned by the Greater Milwaukee Committee and the Downtown Business Improvement District (BID 21), with the GMC paying for the lion’s share of its $29,000 cost. The goal, says GMC president Julia Taylor, was to find “a national firm with experience in downtown entertainment districts and their economic impact.”

The firm they chose certainly boasts that, but its top executive Rob Hunden also is responsible for saddling Kansas City taxpayers with a huge bill. Hunden was a vice president with C. H. Johnson when he helped Kansas City create its Power and Light District.  The downtown entertainment district has been lauded for reviving a blighted area in that city, but at a high cost to taxpayers, as I’ve written. It has fallen short by $15 million annually, all money the taxpayers must contribute.

Hunden would also like to see Milwaukee’s taxpayers spend more. For starters, his report recommends a bigger convention center. Hunden does a comparison of Milwaukee with ten other mid-sized cities, and finds our center needs to nearly double in size, adding 220,000 square feet, to reach the average in these other cities.

As for hotel rooms, Milwaukee is about average, with 11 walkable hotel rooms per 1,000 square feet of convention center exhibition space, yet Hunden concludes that Milwaukee needs “a large 800 – 1,000-room convention hotel adjacent to the Wisconsin Center, especially if the facility expands.” Yet to maintain the current average of walkable rooms after convention center expansion would require only a hotel with 242 rooms. Hunden maintains that the ideal scenario is 15 “walkable hotel rooms” but offers no rationale for this, and his entire report is based on meeting the average in other cities. So why do we need a hotel that big and what developer would want to do this?

As the study notes, “Building large hotels is very difficult due to the cost and space required for development, and as a result, is typically viewed as not feasible by the private sector.” Cities elsewhere have spent “a total of $4.5 billion” on hotel developments with the public sector subsidizing “nearly 33 percent of the costs and this may not include land costs.”

Wow. So now the taxpayers, in addition to paying for doubling the convention center and building an NBA arena, will be asked to go into the hotel business? And what will be their reward?

“The cost and investment of keeping the Bucks is one worth working hard for, as the loss of a team can be devastating to the downtown economy,” Hunden warns, but offers no evidence whatsoever of this contention. The clear consensus among economists is that there is no economic spinoff from such investments, and Hunden never addresses this.

As for the need to increase the convention center, its own data undercuts that recommendation. For starters, the study finds Milwaukee’s convention attendance has increased by nearly 130 percent between 2007 and 2014, while convention hotel room nights increased 26 percent during the same period. So the convention center has done pretty well in recent years.

As for what a bigger convention center might accomplish, the study’s analysis of the Wisconsin Center “suggests that the convention-generated business downtown is minimal. The sales generated by those coming downtown from the suburbs (and beyond) for major events, especially during the summer, is a significant impact on downtown.”

In short, the convention center is not bringing much business downtown. So why should the city should invest more money in it?

Hunden notes that Downtown north of the convention center has dead spots that need to be filled. But this dead zone is arguably due to all the large institutional buildings in the area: the Wisconsin Center, UWM Panther Arena, Milwaukee Theatre, Bradley Center, etc. Adding another huge addition to the convention center, and an even bigger-scaled NBA arena, will simply increase this institutional footprint.

Hunden urges that any new bars or restaurants opened near the new NBA arena be connected to the street activity rather than facing or being inside the facility, something also emphasized by Department of City Development Commissioner Rocky Marcoux at yesterday’s conference held to discuss the new study.

But how many total restaurants and bars are we likely to see locate near the Bucks arena? Three? Five? The Bucks owners haven’t been willing to offer any details on this. And Hunden’s analysis shows that Milwaukee’s Downtown has only 95 restaurants, compared to an average of 195 in the ten peer cities. Will sprinkling a few restaurants or bars near an NBA arena do much to change the situation?

Meanwhile, the restaurant business is booming not far from here. Hunden notes all the activity and nightlife on Milwaukee Street, Brady Street and the Third Ward. Is doubling the size of the convention center or building an NBA arena likely to bring more business to these areas? Perhaps for Milwaukee Street, which benefits from the nearby Pfister Hotel and the new Marriott, which in turn may get hotel nights from the convention center. But that relationship is already occurring despite the supposed inadequacy of our current convention center.

The bizarre thing about the study is how it ignores its own findings about the strengths of Milwaukee. While Milwaukee’s metro area has 1.6 million people compared to an average of 2.1 million in the other ten cities, Milwaukee ranked 6th of 11 in total downtown population, counting employees and residents, and second in downtown residents, with 25,000. The study notes that since 2000, the downtown population in Milwaukee has increased by more than 25 percent and the median income of downtown households increased by 38 percent. More than $500 million in housing developments and 5,000 housing units have been added to Downtown since 2005. And all this growth has happened despite that dreaded dead zone near the convention center.

Milwaukee, the study notes, “has a plethora of districts filled with authentic architecture and lined with independent nightspots… They are in a historic setting in a historic city, and the gravitas of those places cannot easily be manufactured… Milwaukee, for its size, has a wide variety of boutique historical and cutting edge hip hotels of all sizes…. Each of these has a unique character and history that offers visitors an experience.”

Yet the study, instead of looking to build on these strengths, suggests the city add exactly the things already found in these other cities, exactly the things it cautions can grow stale. “If an entertainment complex feels like it could be anywhere and does not seem to ‘belong’ within the city’s urban fabric,” the study warns, “then the newness will wear thin after a few short seasons.”

The study also notes how spread out Milwaukee’s Downtown is, yet recommends we make it more spread out, by creating yet another center of activity near a new NBA arena.

By far the most successful area of the 11 cities when it comes to downtown restaurants, the study finds, is Portland, and these restaurants and major hotels are all located across the Willamette River from the convention center and NBA arena, but connected via light rail. So much for the importance of walkable restaurants and hotels.

The study does talk about Milwaukee’s streetcar and its potential to some day connect areas like Brady or Milwaukee St. or the Third Ward to the convention center. For the present, this report leaves a careful reader with little reason to think a new NBA arena, convention center or hotel will do much to rejuvenate Downtown. It seems more likely taxpayers would spend greatly to create a generic district that has little connection to Milwaukee’s unique culture and history and little long-term appeal.

76 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: We Must Imitate Other Cities”

  1. Marie says:

    Bruce, thanks for another great story that puts things in perspective.

    Milwaukee needs to get over its inferiority complex from being a second-tier city (Portland sure doesn’t appear thus afflicted). (Maybe many MKE residents already have risen above this angst, but our leaders keep trying to sell us on keeping up with the Joneses.) In many ways MKE is cooler than it knows. Not to discount its problems and drawbacks, but we don’t need the “country’s biggest outdoor sports bar,” as the Bucks are proposing for a public-subsidized bar complex next to the arena. We already have more fun going on than a sober person can keep up with. We’re already home to The World’s Biggest Music Festival, MKE Film Fest, Harley Fests and festivals nearly every weekend all summer. And on and on…And if we want even more fun things here, we don’t need taxpayers to subsidize that happening.

    Hunden’s job is providing rationales for cities to spend public money to become bigger and better “destinations.” It’s a hard sell here because Milwaukee has too much already going on. It’s reportedly just “too spread out.” Embarrassments of riches are good problems to have.

    And not enough bars & restaurants near the arena? Then he lists 18 that are within a block. Maybe 20’s the magic number…

  2. PMD says:

    Let’s say a new arena doesn’t move forward. What kind of development does downtown need? Will it happen absent a new arena? Do we need a bigger convention center to compete with other cities or is that not a huge problem (it doesn’t seem like we really need a lot of new hotel rooms)? There are some major eye sores downtown. The land north of the Bradley Center. The empty lot on 4th and Wisconsin. What do we do in those places? I’m a skeptic when it comes to the need for a new arena, but downtown is far from perfect despite some definite assets. Will development happens sans a new arena?

  3. Will says:

    I agree with the report and disagree with this article. Milwaukee is too spread out, the bradley center is pathetic, the bucks district as it stands is a dead zone, we have way too few restaurants, and our convention center is way too small. I also think Milwaukee’s hotels (minus the Pfister and IC) aren’t good. Maybe because I am not from here, but building things that actually maximize their potential is viewed as a good thing in other cities (like the ones on this list that have passed Milwaukee by). Actually giving people a reason to live/visit the city. Although I guess we could just let the Bucks leave, that’ll show ’em!

  4. Will says:

    @PMD

    “What kind of development does downtown need? Will it happen absent a new arena?”

    To me the answer is no, it wont. In the last couple of days two bars have decided to move to old world 3rd st. Without the bucks development I believe that never would of happened.

    “The land north of the Bradley Center. The empty lot on 4th and Wisconsin. What do we do in those places?”

    What we need to do is to give developers reasons to develop there. Like showing that the city actually cares about private development. Think letting the Bucks leave sends that message? (I dont) Think investing 250 million in State funds for a new bucks district does? (I do) these mega developments lead to smaller things like more bars opening nearby and invigorating dead zones in the process. If we do as many on this site hope and wait for private developers to pony up to take these risks, we shouldnt hold our collective breath.

  5. PMD says:

    I can’t think of anything Milwaukee needs less than more bars. Granted I haven’t been in all of them, but I feel like downtown has a lot of nice hotels. Pfister, IC, Hotel Metro, Hilton, Aloft, Hilton Garden Inn, etc. Whenever I am downtown I’m taken aback by how many hotels I see.

  6. Will says:

    I said bars, but I meant businesses of all kinds. In terms of hotels all I can say is I threw a bachelor party in Milwaukee and we couldnt find any good options that werent real expensive, so we drove to Brookfield to stay at my buddies place.

  7. PMD says:

    Yeah I can believe that most of the options downtown are quite expensive.

  8. Nicholas says:

    It is true that moderately priced restaurants are hard to find downtown, visitors can also find how spread out downtown is challenging.

    While we have some good hotels, the convention space is small, an expansion will bring larger conventions, more visitors, and more of a market for your cheap/medium prices bars and restaurants.

  9. Nicholas says:

    PMD, the hotels you mentioned above are among the better hotels, but also are best for business travlers.

    For cheaper-economy hotels downtown, we have the double tree, Fairfield Inn, both of which are decent and the Ramada and Park East (old Comfort inn) which are among the worst of the worst.

    I dont think attracting a holiday inn express or similar brand would be a terrible thing for downtown

  10. Chris says:

    I generally enjoy reading Bruce’s articles. They are often insightful and give food for thought. This one misses the point profoundly…

    Apparently Bruce has spent little, if any time in Westown lately. If so, he would notice the vast swaths of surface parking lots, structured parking garages, and low-use mega-block developments that render this area life-less most of the time.

    This whole study is about connectivity. They get the major issue exactly right: Milwaukee suffers from pedestrian fragmentation. We have some nice, small nodes of pedestrian vitality, but they are too few and too spread out.

    Regardless of whether or not the convention center is expanded or the Bucks arena is built, Milwaukee needs to fill in its gaps with use-intensive storefronts that include more bars, restaurants, retail, and other services.

    Milwaukee operates on a sad scarcity model. It’s a bizarre mindset. People here are convinced that if we concentrate effort in new places we’ll somehow drain all the life from something else… This is NOT how a vibrant city functions. Vibrant cities offer more everywhere. You turn a street corner and find more vitality, not less. People attract people.

    Milwaukee has good bones and decent nodes of activity. But it needs to be woven together… The new pieces being proposed in Westown need to both knit into the existing fabric AND offer more, unique places to go.

    In this study the classic example of Portland, OR is once again put out for comparison to Milwaukee for good reason: similar (but larger) population and, perhaps more importantly, similar population density. Take a trip there and you will see how far behind we are in terms of pedestrian vibrancy… Milwaukee is a good city. But it can be exponentially better if we connect our already great places with more people places. That’s what the study suggests at its core.

  11. Marie says:

    It’s not a question of whether city, county & state officials want to keep the Bucks here. Everyone is super eager to do whatever that takes. The real question is how much will the Bucks demand to stay. How much in public subsidies and sweet deals be required? (Will not getting public funding for an arena-annex bar district really be a deal maker?) And what will be the real cost to taxpayers of all the tax subsidies and property-tax exemptions? What will be sacrificed from other parts of public budgets.

    I’d love to see more critical thinking applied to the arena, overall downtown development, and whether convention space should be expanded. (I suspect that would bring more new bodies downtown than a new arena or state-owned bar district.)

    Smart businesses don’t expand without doing a solid business plan based on credible data and analysis. This report offers a bit of that, but it seems biased and sloppy. What do honest brokers without vested interests have to say? Who might they even be? There’s plenty of independent research about sports venues, and the city’s Legislative Research Bureau compiled a very thorough report on this a year or so ago, which included local data.

    Why is a taxpayer-subsidized bar district being thrown into the mix, just because some other sports venues are doing it? The hundreds of millions that would cost could instead go toward a larger convention center. (OK, we won’t get state taxpayers to spring for that, but why should they be springing to build more bars in downtown Milwaukee next to an arena?) Whatever happened to free-market capitalism?

    Maybe MMAC should just find a foreign investor to pony up $500,000 for an arena and ancillary development, in exchange for a permanent visa (see JS front-page story today). Just vet them carefully. Really…

  12. James Woodson says:

    “Arizona Republic columnist Robert Robb has weighed in on Phoenix’s big investment for both a massive convention center expansion and a city-owned (that’s right, city-owned) hotel, following a Republic story that the 1,000-room Sheraton has lost $28 million since 2008. Noting that Phoenix city officials had assured that the city-owned hotel “would pay for its operations and servicing the debt to build it. No sweat,” Robb reports that the hotel’s ongoing losses, paid back from the city’s Sports Facilities Taxes, may now affect the city’s ability to refurbish or expand the Suns’ basketball arena.”

    “The big Sheraton has been a fiscal disaster — last year’s occupancy rate came to an impressive 51.2% — because the convention center has genuinely flopped. Consultants from Ernst & Young and later HVS had forecast that the hotel would be humming along at 69% occupancy, based on the assumption that the bigger convention center would draw 375,000 convention delegates a year. Last year, the center actually saw 118,332.”

    Here is the link to the above statement and many more regarding Convention Center expansions: http://www.fieldofschemes.com/category/convention-center-follies/

  13. DTY says:

    @ Marie –

    I completely agree that Milwaukee has an inferiority complex. I think it stems from our proximity to Chicago and Minneapolis / St. Paul, which in reality are completely beyond the scale of Milwaukee.

    If you look at the urban area population rankings (I used Wikipedia), the five areas just higher than Milwaukee are Cincinnati, KC, Indianapolis, Orlando and Virginia Beach. The five just below are Columbus, Austin, Charlotte, Providence and Jacksonville. Toss out Orlando for obvious reasons (Disney), and you see medium-large cities that have no overwhelming national draw. They are simply nice places to live with regional attractions, some restaurants and a few notable businesses. Some have major sports teams, some don’t.

    On balance, Milwaukee is no better and no worse than these places. The silly thing is, there are probably people in Columbus saying “Why can’t we have something like Summerfest in Milwaukee” or people in Jacksonville saying “Milwaukee has a better airport than we do” or people in Indianapolis saying “The Milwaukee Zoo is so much nicer than ours.” Enough with trying to keep up with the Joneses. Fix, support and incrementally improve what’s in the city already and focus on local needs rather than trying to make huge splashes.

  14. tomw says:

    We needn’t imitate other cities except in some ways. The real tragedy in this “Bucks will create jobs, development, and discover a cure for the common budget problems of Milwaukee” is that they (the Bucks) really don’t need us, the consumers. Their product is fully paid for with TV revenue. We’re just their to be window, er “arena” dressing. It doesn’t matter to the players where they play and the owners only care about TV ratings. However, since the new arena will be built (MMAC rules), let’s work to leverage some things from it. First, charge user fees to the arena and other development “owners” for all those services the city will provide. Just like churches and other non-profits who don’t pay property taxes, let’s make sure the Bucks put some bucks back into the city so the rest of us aren’t also paying for their fire, police, snow removal, etc. Second, use the development to extend the streetcar line and make the area, including west Wisconsin Avenue, more accessible to and from the rest of downtown and the east side. Third, make part of the development agreement that local HS teams and activities get to use the facilities on all those days it will be dark. Yeah, yeah, there will be costs but let the Bucks offer that as part of their contribution to the City and the schools. It’s sad but we have reached the point in this culture that professional sports seemingly are the reason urban areas exist. Our role is to serve them and not recognize that this is entertainment and not the “raison d’etre” of modern cities. Keep up the good work, Bruce.

  15. Marie says:

    DTY:
    Great observations! Some “destination consultants” (a real growth industry) have sold every U.S. city on the need to become a “tourism magnet.” MKE’s not doing half bad with that, but we’ll never be Chicago or the Twin Cities. Thus the Avis Complex…

    Speaking of Columbus, I’ve not been there lately, but their 85-acre “Arena District” is sometimes mentioned as a successful model. It focused on residential and office development and not on being a trendy bar district. The website brags about something like 8 restaurants, and being friendly to families as well as singles and couples. Family friendly? I thought only Millennials and Baby-Boomers are in the downtown target market! Columbus also has THE Ohio State U (article required) and their residents are probably damn proud of it.

    Maybe we should invest in tax-funded civic self-esteem building instead of a state-owned bar district. Is it Portland or Austin that says Keep ____ Weird? What would be the equivalent for MKE? How can we promote some swagger here? What’s so square about “authenticity,” serial festivals and awesome cultural options?

  16. Observer says:

    Off topic, but I couldn’t help but notice San Diego today came up with a $1.1 billion stadium to keep the Chargers from moving to the LA suburb of Carson. More billions for billionaires. We could have the largest convention center in America and we’d have a tough go of it stealing conventions from Las Vegas and New Orleans. If the Milwaukee Center, Bucks Stadium, and the Milwaukee Theater were such sure fired good ideas, why hasn’t private enterprise jumped in and got it done? I’m resigned to enjoying Giannis becoming the superstar I think he’ll become while playing in Seattle. And I’m OK with that.

  17. Marie says:

    tomw: A great plan! Now go hound our mayor & county exec about it…Who’s hard-bargaining for citizens?

    So who decided to bypass the convention center-arenas Westown with the initial streetcar loop? Aren’t convention tourists the people most likely to be without cars and in need of getting around downtown easily? Yikes! Can this be changed?

  18. Marie says:

    I looked up which city says “Keep ______ Weird” and it’s both, though Austin started it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keep_Portland_Weird

    Some take issue with the slogan, but both cities unapologetically have character and would probably fight off state-run bar districts…

    Maybe we could start with “Keep Brady Street (or Water Street) Edgy.”

  19. David says:

    Enough with the Twin Cities already. In my opinion the most overrated city in the country. “We’ll never be the Twin Cities”. Are you kidding? Thank God! I’ll give you Chicago, but enough about the Minni Apple. Give me a break.

  20. David says:

    Just because many want the Bucks to stay and build a bigger convention center doesn’t mean we have an inferiority complex. You guys aren’t very original. Our convention center was under built from the beginning and name one city that wouldn’t jump at getting an NBA team. Our convention center is smaller than the meeting space at many hotels! And btw, we’re significantly more dense than Portland.

    We have a drastically undersized convention center and like or hate the NBA, they are an asset. There is no inferiority complex. Also, none of those cities have the incredible urban neighborhoods that we have. We do a lot right in Milwaukee.

  21. Dave Reid says:

    @David “Enough with the Twin Cities already. In my opinion the most overrated city in the country.” I might not go that far, but I’m with you I don’t quite get all the love that Minneapolis gets. It’s nice, but I’ll take Milwaukee.

  22. Gerald J. Braden says:

    Milwaukee seems content to let everyone else do the work and expand their enterprises as with convention space and hotels near by. Cities that are savvy about getting the revenue dollars from major conventions know that you must take the risk of building big hotels in connection to a larger convention space. That’s the only way that it will work for Milwaukee. Build not just one but at least 3-4 major hotels along with a major addition onto the convention center. If you expand the center but don’t add hotels, then you are throwing away your money. I have lived in other midwest cities that are close in size to Milwaukee, but they have had vision and courage to go after this business. One of those cities just announced plans for another 1,400 room hotel near their center !! Why does’nt the mayor and the city officials think that it is possible to host a national republican or democratic convention here ? If you have no vision you don’t get this sort of draw. Let’s get out of stinkin thinking and go after the convention business, before we become even worse for convention usage. Since we are sister city to Munich., how about trying to get a few German hotel operators to add their expertise here ? Can you imagine the trickle down benefit a great convention business will have on our area, and state.?

  23. Andy Umbo says:

    DTY says it all, quit trying to keep up with the Joneses. I’ve told people for years, look at the cities that surround Milwaukee on the metropolitan population index, and many of those do not have Milwaukee’s museums, zoos, lake/marinas, bus lines, operas, symphonies, or two pro sports teams. How many things do you think a city like Milwaukee can actually tax and afford? And why is it dependent on what other, larger cities are doing? As far as I’m concerned, dump the Bucks, keep the Brewers. Without fixing our tax problems, no one’s moving here no matter how many professional sports teams we have. I’ve met people in all walks of life that had moved to Milwaukee, loved the city and the lake, and were out in 2 years because of the taxes, including one who went back to Boston because it was “cheaper” to live!

  24. M says:

    Greg Marcus says they’re willing to add 200 hotel rooms if convention space is added. That would increase the tax base and bring more bodies downtown, including on weeknights. Marcus Corp. knows their numbers inside and out and has to live with whatever they invest in. He also called for looking at the big picture of downtown, not just an arena.

    http://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2015/05/18/marcus-corp-could-add-200-rooms-to-downtown-hilton.html?a=t1

    The Bucks have never provided numbers (or anything else) to justify building a public-subsidized “entertainment complex” next to a public-subsidized arena, neither of which would ever pay any property taxes. Will that bring more bodies, or just move ones already here from one block to another–for a while? If the arena thrives, but the “packaged complex” goes belly up (as Hunden says they often do), the Bucks are out very little. After all, it’s the TV money that really matters. But the public arena entity will have to manage/maintain both (taxpayers now owe $20M on an arena we got for free). The public will be stuck with a white elephant, plus paying off financing for both an arena and bar mall. How does that help MKE’s economy or tax base?

    Many have called for enlarging the convention center, which probably can only be done with public money. Before the Bucks decided we needed to imitate Kansas City Live, no one was clamoring for a bar mall in the exact space on 4th Street where food and drink places have floundered for years. If downtown can use more bars/dining, the free market will meet the demand.

    I’m for putting public money into something that will generate new commerce downtown, which more conventioneers and other tourists would do. I’m all for growing MKE based on planning and credible research. I’m not for the public bearing the risk for a private sports franchise to get all the gain.

  25. huk says:

    The new arena site is the mayor’s desperate attempt to salvage the west of the river area. While Norquist struck out by blocking Potawatomi from moving downtown (and rippling down the freeway with no plans for development), he pushed as hard as he could to get the Brewers stadium rebuilt near the Summeriest grounds. As most of the comments indicate, a city should build on its strengths, in our case the Third Ward and lakefront. Creativity is not often mentioned as a characteristic of the Barrett administration. But I do want the Bucks to stay.

  26. Dave Reid says:

    @huk Thankfully Norquist was able to remove the Park East freeway and luckily the casino didn’t move downtown (yet another massive street killing project that would have been). In the long-run removing the freeway saves taxpayers money, had no impact on commute times, and as was always planned it will eventually be developed (things like this take time). And I’d says there is a lot more going on on the west side of the river than people realize. Multiple projects at the Brewery right now (3 I think), and the Posner and Germania conversions are very significant for the area. The Blue Cross buildings is being converted (not my favorite design but new residents for the area) Just to name a couple.

  27. Barbara Cooley says:

    Thanks, Bruce. This needed to be said. I only hope the “decision makers” will pay attention. The psychology around these boondoggles is tricky stuff.

  28. David says:

    Dave I agree that quite a bit is happening west of the river. In addition to the projects you mentioned, MU is also doing a lot of planning and building. Also, there are rumbling about a group looking to revamp the old Grand Theater.

    I’m happy the Park east came down but I do believe the city lacked a holding strategy for the site. This was probably by design because if the city / county created a beautiful yet temporary park in the Park East, residents would not let them build on the site.

  29. David says:

    Barbara….. what boondoggles?

  30. Barbara Cooley says:

    David, if you have to ask … . I’m speaking of more than just Milwaukee projects. Huge municipal projects have tremendous ego appeal for those responsible for the decisions. There are plenty of consulting firms that are happy to stroke those egos by writing favorable “studies” of proposed projects by using data selectively or outright manipulating them. I have been a public policy analyst and I have yet to see a consultant’s report that recommended against one of these. Some projects do improve local economies. Many emphatically do not.

  31. Dave Reid says:

    @David I’ve always believed if the had made it a “temporary” park it would have become even more difficult to develop.. For delays in the PE I’d look to who owns the land and who was in charge for most of those years.

  32. David says:

    Barbara….. I agree that a consultant will tell you what you want to hear…. for a price. However, its no secret that our convention center is woefully inadequate. It was undersized from the beginning and we’re continually losing convention business to cities far smaller and less attractive. If we agree a convention center is worth having maybe it should be done right. The report stated that 75% hotel nights in Indianapolis are directly attributed to their convention business. They have a convention center with four times the space of Milwaukee’s. I would argue that Indianapolis does not believe their convention center is a boondoggle.

    As far as the Bucks are concerned, there are good arguments both for and against. I am for the arena if the properties outside the arena are taxable. We’ll find out soon. And I believe the streetcar is a good idea.

    We compromise too much in this city and end up getting something no one wants. We can’t always lead by consensus. There are no boondoggles west of the river, just poor land use planning, lack of vision, political courage and ultimately mismanagement (Milw Theater).

  33. Josh Zepnick says:

    I agree with #10 Chris!! Normally appreciate Bruce’s writing/analysis, but this is way off track. The question is less about how great will future hold for West side of river, but how does this monday morning quarterbacking help if the Arena deal falls through and we have to start all over again with finding public and private investment for an area that is totally disconnected from the reality of most Milwaukee residents and visitors. Wset side of Downtown is: ugly, difficult to navigate, too much under-utilized space and needs connectivity to points east, north to Pabst and Park East and South to Valley, fifth wards, etc. Shocked by the Cities dissing, when it comes to Minneapolis??!! Are you kidding me…Milwaukee shares a ton of things with the Twin Cities, far more than Chicago to our south. That megatropolis is already absorbing Lake County, IL and Kenosha. Minneapolis pioneered three things in the latter part of the 20th century: regional transportation government (Metro Council), regional tax base sharing to equalize cities vs. suburbs, and a $40 million plus neighborhood revitalization initiative for St Paul and Minneapolis. Meantime in Milwaukee, crybabies like Norquist were stomping their feet demanding this or that. And, no Dave: Norquist did not renew the Park East. While stubborn as hell over light rail with zero ability or willingness to sell to the public, Milwaukee got stuck in a corner where we were forced to spend down Federal dollars that should have gone to transit projects. Instead, we burnt over $20 million to tear down a freeway spur. ALL of that could have and should have used environmental TIF, leveraging reinvestment to pay back the bonds. 15 years later, the place sits empty?! Compare that to the success of the Menomonee Valley. Compare that to the success of reclaimed brownfield areas in the Twin Cities, which are now pumping profit and tax base into their economy. Yes, Minneapolis has large freeways and roads, yet they combine their relative low density suburban model with savvy transit, pedestrian friendly Downtowns and Neighborhoods along with connectivity as others above have pointed out. You can have a successful Downtown that is “spread out” especially when you consider how rivers create “banks” of development and a blocked eastern border with Lake Michicgan. Looking at Minneapolis, it mirrors our situation: the need to link both sides of river, the need to make streets come alive for more than cars, and the daily influx of suburan commuters/tourists/business visitors, and locals coming to major attractions. Minneapolis resolved many connectivity tensions through: housing downtown to an extraordinary level, smart growth planning, 21st century regional transit and neighborhood friendly city government so that downtown vs. neighborhoods fights are less common. Take all that with major corporate HQ, multiple college and university campuses next to each other, and an innovative Philanthropic network of foundations and corporate citizens (some of the largest density wealth in America is in Metro Minneapolis). You get a youthful, forward looking, effective government, and healthy city approach that makes most Milwaukee visitors green with envy when they travel throughout Twin Cities. My view is simple and echoed above: Milwaukee seems to thrive off a scarcity model (Norquist used scarcity to sell transit…it failed miserably)…with zero sum negative politics, stuck in the old days, racial strife, feeling inadequate or the need to be measured by others, aversion to risk, inferiority complex, and a sky is falling mentality that unfortunately Bruce injected into this piece. The whole world knows, that the NBA and Bucks priorities for building a new arena are similar to those in other cities. Where the game changes and where the pencil still needs to meet the paper, is the auxillary development, how its financed, who it benefits and who comes out ahead. The answer to much of this had better be help for the average, taxpaying household within several miles of downtown, with priority placed on those people or areas that have been left out of the economic pie getting bigger time and time again.

  34. Milwaukeean says:

    With everything Milwaukee does have downtown, it still lacks people. Nearly every photo, every visit I make back to Milwaukee, there are never enough people downtown. I always feel like I am one of a few people meandering around downtown, alone.

    Enough “wishful” thinking Milwaukeeans; because Downtown Milwaukee once was a very thriving, bustling central business district in the 70’s and prior. What happened? White flight happened (as it did in many other cities). And the downtown jobs went with them to the suburbs. Bring the jobs back, and you bring the people back to downtown. All things entertainment in downtown Milwaukee (wishful thinking) will still render an almost empty, people-less CBD.

  35. peter-g says:

    Convention center expansions have tended to produce white elephant facilities that leave local taxpayers covering the losses. That major conventions are anything but a growth industry..this short piece from the Brookings Institution summarizes evidence of the poor outlook for the industry,

    http://www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2005/01/01cities-sanders

    but if you Google “economics of convention centers” you will find a wealth of articles on the futility of building more convention space. Cities such as Boston (where I am living until I move back to Milwaukee next month) and Phoenix have huge vacant convention centers and attached hotels (Westin in Boston and Sheraton in Phoenix), and I am sure that there are other cities facing similar problems. There seems to be little or no prospect of more convention business, especially for the gigantic ones that require a facility on the scale of McCormick Place in Chicago. On the contrary, the outlook portends further contraction, due to larger trends in business, technology, and the economy. Conventions will not disappear–they do serve a useful function–but more and larger ones seem to be out of the question.

    Nevertheless, there is much clamoring for expansions of existing facilities in various cities. In Boston, the city and state have signed off on a doubling in size of the larger convention center in the Seaport District (there is another, smaller–but still large–facility in the Back Bay), despite the fact that the larger center is used only a few days a year and is haemorrhaging money. The argument for expansion is that other cities are getting the mega-conventions that Boston is getting because they have larger facilities than Boston. Also, the area’s largest contractor, which built most of the buildings in the Seaport District, is hungrily looking at a fat contract to add several hundred thousand square feet of floor space, as are the locals of the various construction unions. Such special interests stand to gain from the expansion and do not consider the losses that the area’s taxpayers will absorb to be a major concern. One wonders what the consultants at Hunden were thinking of when they recommended a doubling of Milwaukee’s convention center.

    One can also wonder how any consultancy or well-run municipality could consider making hi highly-risky speculative investment such as this without undertaking a thorough and serious market research and/or feasibility study before considering commitment to such a venture. The stock response to this, I would suppose, would be that there is no gain without taking risks—“No guts, no glory!” This is true, but all risks are not created equal: The risk factor in surviving a couple of rounds of Russian Roulette and that of surviving a routine flight from Milwaukee to New York City are of a quite different magnitude, and many more people take the latter risk than the former. With all the evidence pointing to a shrinking market for conventions, it seems that doubling the size of Milwaukee’s convention center in these circumstances would be very costly folly.

    I’d add a side comment for the commenter who cited a friend or acquaintance who was returning to Boston because it was too expensive to live in Milwaukee. The only way that I could imagine that this person would find it cheaper to live in Boston would be if s/he had a very large income, with most of it being investment income. Massachusetts has a flat-rate income tax, with different rates for wage/salary and investment incomes, as opposed to Wisconsin’s income tax. Property taxes in Boston are not much different than in the City of Milwaukee and inner-ring suburbs. Milwaukee has slightly higher rates, but assessed valuations are considerably lower. Otherwise, living in Boston is no bargain compared to Milwaukee. The general level of rents and real estate prices is more than twice that of Milwaukee’s, and this affects not only the cost of putting a roof over one’s head, but also the prices charged by businesses, who also have to pay exorbitant rents for their shops, workshnops, and offices. One of the major reasons that I am returning to Milwaukee, where I grew up, is that I can no longer afford to live in Boston on my modest fixed income.

  36. David says:

    Milwaukean…. I believe Milwaukee’s strength lies in the urban ring around Milwaukee. Most cities our size fall off dramatically once you leave the CBD. We have the Third Ward, Walker’s Point, Eastside, etc. Much of our activity seems to focus in those areas. I’ve been to other cities like Charlotte, Indy, Mpls, etc where this is the case. Less so in the Twin Cities but still enough to notice. We’re a dense city. We may lack the number of jobs in the CBD as compared to other similar sized cities, but we exceed many of those same cities when measuring 0-3 miles of the CBD. With that said, I believe the near west side will dramatically improve over the next few years.

    Josh…. great post. I have a question. Does our shared revenue system ultimately hurt Milwaukee? Do you believe a penny tax could help? It seems as though we can’t do anything in the city without it being a state debate. We can’t raise revenue without involving the state legislature, and speaking of scarcity they aren’t in the mood for any revenue increase for the city. Also, how could Milwaukee ever develop a regional model that helps balance resources more effectively?

  37. Will says:

    “Milwaukee seems to thrive off a scarcity model (Norquist used scarcity to sell transit…it failed miserably)…with zero sum negative politics, stuck in the old days, racial strife, feeling inadequate or the need to be measured by others, aversion to risk, inferiority complex, and a sky is falling mentality that unfortunately Bruce injected into this piece. ”

    Preach, Josh! Hopefully with NEWaukee and a younger generation of Milwaukee OPTIMISTS, this viewpoint will change. I know myself and my peers are actually excited about the growth that is occurring downtown and all the activity it will create, what a concept!

  38. Milwaukeen says:

    Thank you David, I am very aware of Milwaukee’s density – I was born and raised on the near south side. My point is, Milwaukee always had the activity you described in those urban ring neighborhoods, and it also had a very bustling downtown at the same time. I know this because I was living in the City in the 60’s and 70’s (through 2006). I still maintain a building as my 2nd home.

    Replacing jobs downtown with everything entertainment is not a very fiscal way of building a strong C(Business)D.

    Milwaukee has plenty of entertainment venues in and around the City, but it lacks jobs downtown.

    And I would argue that the history of Milwaukee’s density is because of it’s CBD. Live close to where the majority of the regions jobs are located…

  39. Josh Zepnick says:

    David, I should have prefaced, I lived in Twin cities for three years and studied State/Local government. As part of my research, I did massive interviews with just about everybody on these issues and I’ve continued to monitor from afar as Milwaukee moves like a turtle.

    Yes, shared revenue is a complex game and one that funds about 25% of the City of Milwaukee operating budget. Does very little for County Govt. Granted its nearly 5 years old and from a more lethargic macro economy, but look at this Map: https://revenue.wi.gov/ra/percapit.pdf

    What you will immediately notice is some patterns: (note: the chart shows the local option of .5%, so to get to FULL sales tax collections one needs to multiply by eleven. appears that some wealthy communities do not have local option, so their numbers do not show up on this particular graph)

    Older urban communities, ironically Democratic strongholds are at about “average” sales tax revenue collection (YELLOW: Rock, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Fond du Lac, Wood, Iron/Ashland, Chippewa, Washburn, etc.)

    Medium sized urban areas with heavy tourist or “destination” spending: RED spots like Dane, Brown, Door, Sauk, Marathon, Portage, Oneida, Vilas. These are all above average in sales tax collections and likely carry the most in terms of non Wisconsin residents paying into system

    Low population, rural, “recipient” communities: Light Blue color, and you can sense….these are small town, low dollar, perhaps high poverty communities, off the grid, less Interstate access, etc. The drop in sales tax revenue seems to range between $100 and 250 million when compared to the likes of Milwaukee.

    Milwaukee County generates between roughly $700 and 800 million of Wisconsin’s sales taxes. Yet, our shared revenue totals several hundred million dollars less, when you include all 19 municipalities.

    Where does that money go? well…when lucky, the City of Milwaukee gets in the form of some other kind of local aid. More often, it goes to ensure, for example, that suburban Milwaukee County cities can have gold plated libraries, faster than a second police and fire services, and brand new schools. They can take care of their road infrastructure and other quality of life services easier, which allows them to provide a tax and service model, that attracts people from the city of Milwaukee. Its even more convoluted when you exit Milwaukee County.

    Regional tax base sharing, would take a set of counties and connect them so that: local units of govt are prohibited from using tax dollars to game system when trying to attract development, jobs, amenities. Donor and Recipient areas can change over time, depending on how evenly incomes grow, tax base, etc. For example, Minneapolis was once a recipient city, then became a donor city of all things! Not sure how much thats changed in 15 years.

    But the model needs to be done on a regional basis, not one size fits all statewide. That way you connect like minded communities, cultures, and take into account the strengths and weaknesses. Clearly, SE Wisconsin is not identical to the Fox Valley or Wausau area or Vilas County.

    My view, in the meantime, just let us keep what we generate in sales tax first, then haggle over redistribution systems after those numbers are collected statewide or regionally. Ideally, a group of university experts could team with local foundations, government leaders, GMC/MMAC, Public Policy Forum, major insitutitions like hospital systems, large corporate and employment centers, entertainment/cultural/visitor-based industries and develop a system where Milwaukee could partner on a regional basis.

    Given that the M-7 crowd has too many wealthy Republican constituents, I would not hold my breath on that front. But they could help start the conversation. Start out small. Say, Milwaukee and Racine County…maybe add Kenosha or Rock or Walworth in at some point? Until the poor get poorer in Waukesha, I exclude them for obvious political reasons. That will change over time. They also need our water.

    A savvy Governor and other political leadership can and should “sweeten the deal” by promising no one will get screwed and by adding attractive “give and take” kind of things. and these are just off the cuff examples, but when we did RTA debate, I told Governor Doyle…it ain’t gonna happen if you don’t provide some extra dollars to Racine in terms of local roads or economic development, etc. Similarly, you would only get a Walworth County on board, if there was something fancy and desirable in it for Delavan/Lake Geneva…like rail service or water services, etc.

    This requires vision, discliplined leadership, and using two parts economics and one part politics. While today, that seems uphill…I won’t give up until I’m dead and there are new signs of change evolving. The overall economy improving helps. Meantime, Dane and Waukesha counties will continue to grow and thrive. They are the largest beneficiaries of State Capitol decisions, whether through spending or tax policy. We foot the bills, the bad news and problems and are asked to perform miracles every day. We have not had a Governor that likes, understands or properly is leader for Milwaukee. Not since I’ve been in politics at least. Hopefully someday that will change!

  40. David says:

    Thanks Josh. I think there is a lot of misinformation regarding this topic. I would love to see more discussion on this issue. Maybe Bob Donal from WCD would like to contribute to the conversation. He seems to blame Milwaukee for everything. Josh, have you ever submitted an article on this issue to UM? It would be a great discussion. Thanks!

  41. Matt S. says:

    FWIW, in at least one instance the Hunden report presents the work of others as its own. For example, the “tourist vs. locals” map of Flikr photos. This data visualization was created by Eric Fischer, and really does give us great insight into the culturally vibrant parts of Milwaukee, but it receives no attribution in the report.

    http://flowingdata.com/2010/06/08/where-the-tourists-really-flock/

  42. David says:

    Milwakean. Maybe the lack of pedestrian traffic downtown has less to do with jobs and more to do with retail leaving. We have 80-85k jobs in the downtown which isn’t that low relative to our metro area population. I’m not sure of the number we had in the 60s. However, we used to have 50k jobs in the Valley that aren’t there anymore. Although the Valley is coming back, we won’t reach those numbers. I’m sure a fair number of them came downtown for the shopping.

    I’m not saying downtown should be all entertainment, but tourism and visitors are a huge industry in the city. Why wouldn’t we nurture that sector of the economy? I also think pedestrian activity in Westown is struggling because it’s not a pleasant place to be. That is fixed by developing traffic generators and improving the pedestrian experience.

  43. Tony Muhammad says:

    Too many cities across America ignore their high residents poverty levels surrounding their downtown areas. The City of Milwaukee is no exception to this unsung rule when investment dollars are sought for some grand scheme to boost commercial spending.

    Consider President Obama…”If communities are being isolated and segregated, without opportunity and without investment and without jobs — if we politicians are simply ramping up long sentences for nonviolent drug crimes that end up devastating communities, we can’t then ask the police to be the ones to solve the problem when there are no able-bodied men in the community, or kids are growing up without intact households.”
    — President Obama during his visit to Camden, New Jersey on Monday

    Is it just me, It reads like his message was tailored made for Milwaukee Inner City living conditions.

  44. Milwaukean says:

    David: I’d say we are both correct (and probably you more than me) – yet I just can’t get my head wrapped around trying to capitalize on entertainment when the City already has enough entertainment venues that could be updated and/or improved where they are currently located.

    I would be interested in seeing data on Milwaukee’s CBD and it’s corresponding GDP to other cities of it’s size.

    Nashville, where I currently live in the Winter has surpassed Milwaukee only in the last 5-8 years or so, in both population and GDP. And you should see how Milwaukee’s downtown pales in comparison to Nashville with pedestrian activity, jobs, and entertainment combined. The job growth is so active in this region, that the housing availability isn’t enough, transit isn’t enough, and current entertainment venues still are not enough. I credit these recent changes here in Middle TN to job growth, alone.

    Bring more jobs and you bring more people, entertainment, transit, etc…

    Milwaukee needs to do the same for its region, and because it is historically a densely-populated city, it should concentrate that job growth to its CBD.

  45. John G. says:

    Comparing Milwaukee and Portland metros appears to be due to population size and nothing else. For people to compare:

    http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/55/55079.html
    http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/41/4159000.html

    Apart from population size, there is a massive difference in demographics, both in terms of race, income/pverty, and education levels. Not to mention Portland has had a much higher population growth rate.

    Having been to Portland four times in the last 5 years, I can tell you it’s vibrancy lies in the the number of middle and upper middle class folks who have moved there, and a large creative class. Portland being a newer city also never had to deal with the same level of white flight and manufacturing base loss.

    Portland’s basketball arena and convention center are indeed across the river from downtown, with almost zero hotels nearby, and a rougher neighborhood. Light rail and taxis likely shepherd the majority of convention goers.

  46. PMD says:

    How many new jobs will be downtown once the new Northwestern Mutual tower is finished and open? And what if Johnson Controls eventually opens an office downtown? How many employees would that have?

  47. witt says:

    the study is based upon statistics. those statistics can be interpreted in many ways by different people, based upon what they wish for the results to be. julia is doing that in her way. bruce is doing that in his way. they each seek a different result and they each get it thanks to their own interpretation.

    I believe that raw statistics are only a part of the story and they could be possibly the least significant part. my question is how are we using the existing amenities that we do have or will use the ones we want that make up these statistics? how does each contribute to the soul and identity of our city? you can build as many buildings as you want to, but it is how the buildings are used that dictates their actual contribution to making our city work and making it a better place.

    be honest. how much does our convention center contribute to the soul and identity of our city? answer: not much. it and they are in snooze mode because no one, including their asleep at the wheel board are feeling as if they have to… try harder… be better… or to analyze every aspect of their business and seek to have their reach exceed their grasp. to be accountable.

    if you look at milwaukee governmental related entities you will be seeing the entities that are failing our city (during a period that we are growing in so many other ways):
    Visit Milwaukee
    Milwaukee Theatre
    US Cellular
    Convention Center
    Grand Ave Mall

    who holds each of these accountable? no one. failure IS an option when no one challenges you to succeed or “die”. when no one holds you accountable.

  48. David says:

    I agree witt. Who books for the Milwaukee theater? Seems to me that should be outsourced. Don’t get me started on the arena. Ugh.

  49. M says:

    I’m in awe of the depth of analysis and insight represented here. These perspectives are all desperately needed Milwaukee as tries to move forward. How can this be harnessed to help Milwaukee fulfill its potential on many levels?

    Is there any potential for civic engagement on these issues? Besides a business panel now and then (like this week), is any of this being discussed with potential for public input? I know democracy can be messy but plutocracy/oligarchy can be far worse (if sometimes efficient–fewer people trying to get heard).

    Thanks to Bruce for getting this discussion started, and to UM gang for creating space to air importnat issues. Based on comments, I’m rethinking my views on expanding convention center. It’s a complex issue, and thoughtful analysis is critical. How can we try to keep bad decisions from being made with public money. That’s our money they’re talking about investing.

    Meanwhile, the mayor has pledged to have a functional city parking ramp donated, razed and rebuilt a block away from a new arena without any public discussion or even a plan and cost analysis. The Bucks have proposed an “entertainment district” in its place, calling a “public plaza,” but will it really be public? If so, shouldn’t the public have something to say about it? (It sounds more like a mall with an outdoor courtyard. Hunden says entry is carefully restricted at these “Live” sites.) This annex could cost as much as a convention hall expansion. But it’s all happening in a shroud of secrecy. Will it be a boondoggle as Barbara Cooley suggests, or MKE’s Grand Destination as Bucks propose? We may find out after it’s steamrolled through.

    Matt S.: Thanks for calling out Hunden’s reprehensible plagiarism. It’s my favorite part of the report. Calls into question sourcing of other data.

  50. Kyle says:

    PMD, I know you’re going to just call this nitpicking, but Johnson Controls does have an office downtown. I think they have for the past 130 years or so. Yes, they seem to be looking to build an international headquarters downtown, but that would be in addition to their current presence.

  51. PMD says:

    Thank you for the correction Kyle. So glad you showed up here to set the record straight.

  52. Marie says:

    An article on “packaged entertainment districts” as promoted by Rob Hunden & the Bucks. It features Water Street as the opposite.

    http://www.salon.com/2012/05/19/urban_entertainment_districts_blocks_where_no_one_has_fun/

  53. Amos AndrewWe get, Witt, says:

    We get it, Witt. Any venue that isn’t run by an egotistical maniac like you is mismanaged and a failure. No need to post your opinion all over social media and state your views at every panel discussion in the city-we hear you loud and clear. Unfortunately, you don’t have any understanding about what the venues listed (not sure why a cell phone company is among them) missions are and what effect they have on the city. Completely different from what you’re doing.

  54. Barbara Cooley says:

    M — I’m not saying the proposed arena complex would be a boondoggle. I’m saying that basing a decision on consultant studies (which never say “don’t do it”) and the egos of decision makers is no way to avoid a boondoggle. It might be a success regardless, but it wouldn’t be a success because of it.

  55. M says:

    Barbara–Thanks for clarifying. I have no idea if it will be a boondoggle or not, because no one will say what it will be. Why do taxpayers need to fund a mega sports bar, or 3 floors of bars or whatever it will be? We already have many successful bars and restaurants. Why should taxpayers build more?

    It’s also pitched as a public space/public plaza. But sports bars/malls etc. are not public spaces–which don’t have age requirements or dress codes, etc. as all these Live districts do. We’re not talking about creating Millennium Park Lite, (with completely free access and programs) because we cannot maintain existing parks on the paltry budget they get. This Whatever will strictly be retail space; the Bucks will get a big cut of everything, and the State of Wisconsin will own & manage it. It seems like an insane idea, given everything else being cut from state’s budget.

    Hunden suggests we invest in this “Whatever-You-Call-It” because Kansas City did when they could not get people downtown. We have no trouble getting people to Water & Third Street, or to arenas, theaters, lakefront etc. We have other major challenges with downtown, and many dead zones, but lack of entertainment options is not one of them.

    Can we just admit the Bucks are demanding this nightlife annex, and their only goal is to generate revenue at the public’s expense? They’re pitching it as a public works project. The Bucks created pretty renderings and some hyperbolic prose, and now our leaders are huddling on how to fund what’s a cut above a cocktail-napkin sketch. The arena is one thing, but this is completely another. Great potential as a boondoggle.

    Our mayor/county exec, desperate to appease the Bucks, may just write a blank check from the public’s bank and cross their fingers.

  56. Observer says:

    Wouldn’t it be cheaper for us taxpayers to invest in Kansas City’s complex? Maybe we could become sister cities.

  57. M says:

    @Observer: Best plan yet! Chances are the payoff for taxpayers would be about the same. We could trade them free tickets to Summerfest.

  58. ChicagoScott says:

    Great article and comments!

    I sure would like to see city who’s development policy was “Jobs –>Residents –>Development” instead of “Development –>Visitors –>Jobs.” And, the jobs in the latter model are usually lower wage. Cultivate, incubate, attract and support enterprise and innovation of all sorts. The rest is a no brainier.

    Oh, and I’d gladly trade one Couture for 15 Posners or Germanias, any day.

  59. Barbara Cooley says:

    M – I agree.

  60. Milwaukeean says:

    ChicagoScott: Exactly! Jobs first…Residents…then fancy development. It is as if the City thinks spending for new/additional development projects will bring long-term jobs. When actually, it should be long-term jobs will bring new/additional development.

    It appears Milwaukee’s politicians (and possible it’s residents) are fighting an inferiority complex against similarly sized cities, and wants what it cannot have or support.

    Bring a more robust business climate to the Milwaukee area and the new developments will follow.

    Why not hold this accountable as a viable policy to our local Politicians?

  61. Tony Muhammad says:

    The State Government of Wisconsin promises to contribute 200 million dollars to this Milwaukee downtown grandioses scheme.

    The City and County governments of Milwaukee promises to kick in another 50 million dollars as added enticement to hedge fund billion dollar new owners of the Bucks basketball team to build a new arena and stay located in the City of Milwaukee.

    I’m a lifelong (58 years) Milwaukee tax paying Northside resident. Presently unemployed, but actively looking for work.

    Today (05/21/2015) Milwaukee City Hall human resource would not make copies of my Driver Lic. and DD214 to attach to a job application, I previously submitted online earlier this week, to an open City position with the DPW.

    Of course, I asked why not. The receptionist stated they could not provide copying service to the public even for documents when applying for city positions.. She suggested I go to Kinkos to make copies…I said you mean to tell me the city can not afford paper to make copies for tax paying residents yet the city is willing to hand over 25 million dollars to two rich out-of- towners? Her face went blank of course…True story…The End.

    Go figure…

  62. Maggie says:

    The report pointed out a number of true market differentiators about downtown Milwaukee: an abundance of cool boutique hotels and enviable architecture, to name a couple. About 20 years ago when then-President Clinton and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl came to Milwaukee for a Summit, the international media went NUTS over our architecture (I know, because I was managing all the media for the event). Yet we take such irreplaceable and genuine gems for granted and instead commission studies that tell us what we already know: we’re deficient in generic things like the size of our convention center. Such studies generally leave people feeling hopeless and powerless, because we all know it will take another gazillion years (during which our convention center will “shrink” even more…) and a lot of fighting and frustration to get anywhere on that one and similar other projects. So here’s a different idea: let’s build on our strengths. Let’s be authentically Milwaukee. We likely won’t ever win the convention center size game or the hotel room number game, because the moment things are built they are too small/outdated/the bar has moved again out of our reach. But do we really care? Let’s focus on what we do have and make it better. Let’s focus on connecting the nodes by creating corridors of experiential delight every 50-100 feet, not on creating monolithic monstrosities that make us Anywhere, USA. I’m not saying we don’t need those things, but maybe it’s not where the majority of us should focus our energy. How about this: while the Powers That Be puff out their chests and debate arena size, convention center size and the value of NBA teams, let’s get something done. Right now. Building on the good things we’ve got and creating the authentic Milwaukee WE want. Be The Milwaukee You Want To See!

  63. Observer says:

    @Tony I’ll bet if you had been one of the Buck’s owners she would have made you that copy. Good luck on your job search. I changed careers at age 50 and I recommend you look into the healthcare field.

  64. Marie says:

    Maggie-
    I completely agree. Play up MKE’s strengths, opportunities and unique features. Many are already doing that, which is why/how MKE, esp. downtown has grown recently. Keep Milwaukee authentic!

    You sound like a marketer, Maggie. Pitch it. Best lakefront anywhere. Great historic buildings and districts. Superb culture. Festival City, etc.

    Some focused planning and expanding the “nodes”, even without the big-bucks projects like more convention space, could make a big impact. Getting a short streetcar spur up 4th Street in Phase 1 would make a huge difference for Westown and serve many tourists/attractions, even those just across the river. Westown needs much help and should not be made to wait till Phase 2.

  65. Tony Muhammad says:

    @Observer,Coincidentally I changed careers from professional truck driver to Human Services Case Manager at age 50. I worked for two social service agencies. One part time the other full time from 03/2008 to 10/2010. Both positions where LTE. After both positions expired the academic qualification for a Case Manager in the local workforce, raised from my present AA degree, to a BA degree in a matter of months once unemployed. I presently have been out of work in the human service field since 2010.

    I also recently applied with the VA for a Service Representative Case Manager position in its benefits department. Ironical the job description outline is mostly word for word with work I previously mention and learned college course credits. To my surprise, the VA requires a Master’s Degree or other graduate level credit hours in combination of 4 years college course credit hours equivalents with combine totals equaling 100 % in substitute of graduate level credit hours. Confusing…right!

    I applied anyway, in hope my AA degree with 72 (Honors) credits, plus 15 technical / math credit hours combined with two years, two months work experience gets me in the door to sell my skills and knowledge covering their list of job duties for the open positions (7). Uhmmm.

    Observer, I shared all this work force nonsense with you to say…Applying for City Truck Driver / Operator position with DPW is a step back from a career change I made in 2007 at the age of 49, but politicians declare the economy has rebounded from this great recession with unemployment rates at pre-2006-7 levels. Of course they do not count workers that have disappeared into long employment lines at so-called hiring job fairs (What a farce / fart), and having fallen off the books of employment indicators, such as, unemployment compensation. Of course, I have the nerve to wonder why they lie. I guess it comes easy for “some politicians,” actively aware they can talk over most common people heads, but not this one for certain…

    I have had to sale the home I raised my 4 boys, and loss wife (X due to this great recession) within the past 5 years, to keep from taking up residence on skid-row or the Salvation Army, free meals line on 7th and Wells. I’m sure if the city is handing out tens of millions of taxpayer money to billionaires…STOP…I dare not ask, I wouldn’t want to lower the expectations “some politicians,” have in the common people of this Great Nation.

    I’m absolutely certain, I am deserving of a free paper copy of two required documents for an open position with City DWP. I have lived here most of my life paying taxes and utility cost (accept spent military enlistment time). Yea I know…it’s a dream, but I wake up into it (Hope) everyday these past five years.

    Is it too much for me to hope I get a position I’m obviously overqualified for?…Yea I know.. Here I go again…it’s a dream, but I wake up into it (Hope) everyday the past five years now, at 58 years of age.

    My employment situation gives the old saying “It’s all downhill after fifty,” a fresh perspective.

  66. Virginia Small says:

    Here’s a recent thorough article on subsidized “Kansas City Live,” as well as an “organic” artsy district in KC, which has thrived without any public subsidies.

    http://nextcity.org/features/view/kansas-city-mall-downtown-development-subsidies-cordish-companies

    Cordish, the developer of KC Live and a dozen similar publicly-funded developments, got its start in Baltimore. Economist Marc Levine analyzes economic development in Baltimore–and Milwaukee, in a JS op-ed. A cautionary tale.

  67. Observer says:

    Thanks Tony for sharing. I can relate. Ego disappears when the paycheck disappears. The lack of empathy from politicians loudly wearing their Christian faith on their sleeves is telling.

  68. TF says:

    Tony, that is a moving and saddening story. I sincerely hope that you find success with your application. It seems our city leaders are just fiddling while Milwaukee burns, to use the old adage. Massive “development” projects like this seem to benefit the uber-wealthy more than they help anyone else. Our politicians’ gung-ho attitude about development is not serving anyone but corporate benefactors.

  69. Steve says:

    Right on, Maggie. Milwaukee has a juggernaut of unique qualities to build on. That’s where the real action is, whereas convention centers are commodities and sappers of resources that can be better employed elsewhere.

    Meanwhile, what on earth do commenters such as Josh (#32) and Chris (#10) have in mind when they complain about Milwaukee operating on a scarcity model?

    Downtown is at the center of a region known for plodding population and economic growth. Yet within that limited pie, it’s already competing inordinately well for new housing, offices and entertainment development. Look at greater downtown, extending from the Global Water District to the explosion of apartment construction along North Water Street south and north of Brady. Look at the Northwestern Mutual Tower, the new office tower on Michigan for Godfrey & Kahn, the move of Dohmen to the Third Ward, relocation of Manpower to the Park East, the strong interest of Johnson Controls in a new office tower etc. Or look west to the impressive cluster of new office-academic and residential development in the redeveloped Pabst Brewery.

    How does any of this activity represent a cautiousness or scarcity mentality towards the development of downtown? The beef of several seems to be that not enough of this abundance has flowed to Westown to eliminate its dead spots or to fix its connectivity problems.

    On that point, I don’t sense defeatism on Bruce’s part — just realism. With several generations’ worth of superblock developments, boxy institutional buildings, urban malls, freeway interchange/civic plazas (Macarthur Park) and other notorious misbegotten megaprojects, that area is going to take generations to straighten out. That’s the reality of a downtown that’s already getting an impressive share of development in a slow-growth metro area. A new Bucks arena surrounded by lively mixed-use development could help move the needle a bit in the right direction, but it’s no silver bullet. And what’s been unvelied so far looks like a wash, calling for street-level retail and pedestrian pathways while reducing overall street connectivity in that area. Even more important is the residential development that continues in Westown with the private-market Posner redevelopment and Blue Cross apartment conversion. As that continues, expect opportunities for restored connectivity of the kind championed by Chris to multiply over the coming generations. See the excellent Tom Daykin story from this weekend: Developer follows downtown growth west. http://www.jsonline.com/business/developer-follows-downtown-growth-west-b99504371z1-304826411.html

    And, Josh, how about providing a translation of what you’re advocating here? If you really expect auxiliary arena development to “help” taxpaying households” in underdeveloped, opportunity-poor neighborhoods (of which we have far too many!), please spell out how that works in English, mister. Based on the KC experience, just getting it to break even is job #1.

  70. Steve says:

    Trying again without html blockquotes:

    Right on, Maggie. Milwaukee has a juggernaut of unique qualities to build on. That’s where the real action is, whereas convention centers are commodities and sappers of resources that can be better employed elsewhere.

    Meanwhile, what on earth do commenters such as Josh (#32) and Chris (#10) have in mind when they complain about Milwaukee operating on a scarcity model?

    Quoting Josh: “Milwaukee seems to thrive off a scarcity model ….and a sky is falling mentality that unfortunately Bruce injected into this piece.”

    Downtown is at the center of a region known for plodding population and economic growth. Yet within that limited pie, it’s already competing inordinately well for new housing, offices and entertainment development. Look at greater downtown, extending from the Global Water District to the explosion of apartment construction along North Water Street south and north of Brady. Look at the Northwestern Mutual Tower, the new office tower on Michigan for Godfrey & Kahn, the move of Dohmen to the Third Ward, relocation of Manpower to the Park East, the strong interest of Johnson Controls in a new office tower etc. Or look west to the impressive cluster of new office-academic and residential development in the redeveloped Pabst Brewery.

    How does any of this activity represent a cautiousness or scarcity mentality towards the development of downtown? The beef of several seems to be that not enough of this abundance has flowed to Westown to eliminate its dead spots or to fix its connectivity problems.

    On that point, I don’t sense defeatism on Bruce’s part — just realism. With several generations’ worth of superblock developments, boxy institutional buildings, urban malls, freeway interchange/civic plazas (Macarthur Park) and other notorious misbegotten megaprojects, that area is going to take generations to straighten out. That’s the reality of a downtown that’s already getting an impressive share of development in a slow-growth metro area. A new Bucks arena surrounded by lively mixed-use development could help move the needle a bit in the right direction, but it’s no silver bullet. And what’s been unvelied so far looks like a wash, calling for street-level retail and pedestrian pathways while reducing overall street connectivity in that area. Even more important is the residential development that continues in Westown with the private-market Posner redevelopment and Blue Cross apartment conversion. As that continues, expect opportunities for restored connectivity of the kind championed by Chris to multiply over the coming generations. See the excellent Tom Daykin story from this weekend: Developer follows downtown growth west. http://www.jsonline.com/business/developer-follows-downtown-growth-west-b99504371z1-304826411.html

    And, Josh, how about providing a translation of what you’re advocating here? If you really expect auxiliary arena development to “help” taxpaying households” in underdeveloped, opportunity-poor neighborhoods (of which we have far too many!), please spell out how that works in English, mister. Based on the KC experience, just getting it to break even is job #1.

    Quoting Josh: “Where the game changes and where the pencil still needs to meet the paper, is the auxiliary development, how its financed, who it benefits and who comes out ahead. The answer to much of this had better be help for the average, taxpaying household within several miles of downtown, with priority placed on those people or areas that have been left out of the economic pie getting bigger time and time again.”

  71. Tony Muhammad says:

    @TF…Exactly!

  72. Tony Muhammad says:

    @ Observer…Agreed…Religion is a useful “ear teaser” by politicians seeking favor and support from religious communities. Politics and Religion does not mix well. At least America founding Fathers thought so…

  73. David says:

    Wiki – Scarcity is the fundamental economic problem of having seemingly unlimited human wants in a world of limited resources. It states that society has insufficient productive resources to fulfill all human wants and needs. This is how Milwaukee addresses its infrastructure needs.

    Steve….. Milwaukee has no dedicated funding for transit or our parks system. Federal funds that were earmarked for improved transit were instead used to tear down the spur and build the Marquette Interchange. The state took some as well. Now we’re left without improved transit and vacant land. Norquist gambled a failed. I don’t believe Josh was referring to scarcity in private sector development.

  74. Steve says:

    David … Our lack of a dedicated regional funding source for transit definitely holds us back, but that’s a separate issue from this grumbling over the allegedly misspent Fed funds. That money was locked up for a very long time by state Republicans and then-County Exec Walker, who all proved themselves very hostile to rail transit in Milwaukee. Though it would have taken longer, the funds easily could have wound up going the way — poof — of the Federal money that was earmarked for high speed rail. (The move by Barrett to get David Obey to give the city sole control over 60% of remaining funds via a stealth provision in a 2009 federal spending bill was a stroke of genius, and it would have been interesting to see what Norquist would have done had a similar option surfaced during his time.)

    Regarding Josh’s position on scarcity, here’s the statement he seconded from Chris:

    Milwaukee operates on a sad scarcity model. It’s a bizarre mindset. People here are convinced that if we concentrate effort in new places we’ll somehow drain all the life from something else… This is NOT how a vibrant city functions. Vibrant cities offer more everywhere. You turn a street corner and find more vitality, not less. People attract people.

    Not much about transit funding there. It’s seems to be more about stimulating development in Westown as a way of addressing lifeless streets and connectivity issues there. My point is to be bullish about Westown in the long-term — yes to more vibrancy everywhere — but to be skeptical about short cuts involving subsidized convention center expansion and hotels, or subsidized ancillary arena development that puts taxpayers at risk, while private market development floods into other parts of downtown.

  75. David says:

    Steve…. my assumption was that Josh was referring the formal scarcity model and used the original Northwest Corridor light rail issue as an example. Josh cited Norquist’s failed attempt to leverage limited funding in order to sell the transit plan to the suburbs, which of course did not work. I used the infrastructure example (dedicated funding for transit and parks) because we only invest in capital improvements and necessary maintenance if the funds are deemed “available”. Hence the death spiral that both transit and our parks are experiencing.

    I am optimistic about Westown and Milwaukee in general. Poor land use planning has devastated Westown and I agree we’re looking at a long term fix. I also think Milwaukee is very authentic and unique. Even more so than the cities that claim to be authentic and unique, ie Austin and Portland. However, I’m not sure I agree with you that a convention center is a shortcut. I do know that visitors / tourism is a huge business in Milwaukee, but I don’t know how much the convention center contributes to industry. I also think that if planned well and structured appropriately, the Bucks development would be great for the city both culturally and financially. We do need some traffic generators.

    What are the alternatives? Theoretically speaking, the private development you say is pouring into Milwaukee needs both tourism and local involvement to succeed.

  76. REP ZEPNICK says:

    #70 Steve: Since you are so good at dishing out advice to everyone on this now too long thread, why don’t you try to listen to what we are saying? David, Thank you for your many clarifications and the accurate framework of “scarcity” model. You said it better than I did man!

    (steves quote): And, Josh, how about providing a translation of what you’re advocating here? If you really expect auxiliary arena development to “help” taxpaying households” in underdeveloped, opportunity-poor neighborhoods (of which we have far too many!), please spell out how that works in English, mister. Based on the KC experience, just getting it to break even is job #1.

    My response:
    Steve and anyone else who cares, I do not hide behind the veil of anonymous monday morning quarterbacking. I serve in government and it was when I worked for Congressman David Obey, that we secured the first round of Federal transit funding, only to watch Norquist, Ament and Tommy mess it all up. To say our office was pissed at Milwaukee would be an understatement!!! So spare me your sarcastic, “…give us your translation mister” b.s. talk and contact me privately if you want a long running debate.

    I reprinted my words which you said was a cryptic quote. Translates to this Steve, Arena itself is no economic engine or driver. It will not make a profit and will require public subsidy. Those are statement of fact not my opinion. I said in plain English, where this game changes…is the nearby development in a wobbly West side of Downtown. My work in the Legislature helped pave the way for the Zilber Center for Public Health and the expansion of Pabst brewery redesign. I support the streetcar and its extension to Arena, Pabst/Park East and up to King Drive. I’ve made that public on several occasions. But Westown has had difficulty and in my various public positions, I have correctly pointed out, that until recent changes: development was focused east of river and south of Downtown. Westown stuck with one large government or nonprofit building after another. They don’t attract private dollars or housing, they don’t pay taxes and they are largely old and ugly buildings.

    If you read below, you will see…the key questions needing answers: who it benefits, who comes out ahead and my take was…it had better be helping the average taxpayer and helping under-invested persons and neighborhoods. You got it now?

    I was the Legislator who helped move the Workforce Investment agency frAnd, Josh, how about providing a translation of what you’re advocating here? If you really expect auxiliary arena development to “help” taxpaying households” in underdeveloped, opportunity-poor neighborhoods (of which we have far too many!), please spell out how that works in English, mister. Based on the KC experience, just getting it to break even is job #1.

    Quoting Josh: “Where the game changes and where the pencil still needs to meet the paper, is the auxiliary development, how its financed, who it benefits and who comes out ahead. The answer to much of this had better be help for the average, taxpaying household within several miles of downtown, with priority placed on those people or areas that have been left out of the economic pie getting bigger time and time again.”om Walker’s lousy County Govt to Mayor Barrett…since then, we have put millions of Federal dollars to work on jobs particularly for those left out of the economic success of milwaukee. What have you done Steve? And, whats your idea for putting people back to work…or better yet, how does losing the Milwaukee Bucks and not building an Arena, help unemployed folks or Downtown or…anything?! Like I said, shoot me a private email or call me up if you want to talk further. I’m not saying I have all the answers, but I am trying to ask the right questions.

    Quoting Josh: “Where the game changes and where the pencil still needs to meet the paper, is the auxiliary development, how its financed, who it benefits and who comes out ahead. The answer to much of this had better be help for the average, taxpaying household within several miles of downtown, with priority placed on those people or areas that have been left out of the economic pie getting bigger time and time again.”

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