Michael Horne
Plenty of Horne

Bucks Sign Contract for Park East Land

Press conference with Abele celebrates award of 10 acres of county land for $1 and big dreams.

By - Sep 9th, 2015 06:23 pm
Chris Abele and Peter Feigin just after signing the deal. Photo by Michael Horne.

Chris Abele and Peter Feigin just after signing the deal. Photo by Michael Horne.

Today was a big day for the Milwaukee Bucks.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin put their signatures on a $1 contract giving the Bucks owners an option to buy Blocks 1, 2, 4, and 7 of the Park East redevelopment site. The contract was actually signed by Head of the Herd, LLC., the development company owned by the Bucks owners, for development of practice facility for the team along with “ancilary” development in the vacated freeway corridor on the north end of downtown.

The ceremony was held this afternoon at Block 7, near the former site of the Sydney Hih building, just across from the Moderne, the luxury high-rise where Abele resides. The block will be part of the anciliary development for the $500-million arena.

“I’m beyond pumped,” Feigin told the 200 or so attendees, many of them union workers in their hardhatted, neon-vested regalia. Feigin said the first phase of the development, which will take part on the north and western portions of the nearly 10-acre site, will be the Bucks practice facility, which is scheduled to begin construction by the end of the year, and is projected to be a 50,000 to 60,000 square foot building with a price tag of $25 to $30 million.

In response to a question from Urban Milwaukee, Feigin said work had just begun on executing a lease for the arena, which he says is under way with the State of Wisconsin Department of Administration. This lease will be critical to other approvals of the project, including those of the City of Milwaukee.

Feigin also responded to a question asking if any new renderings were available for the facility beyond the two that were unveiled in a March press conference.

Feigin said the next graphics of the facility would be beyond the rendering stage and would be full schematics. These will “come out in the next few weeks,” he said. These will be shown to the owners for their approval and then shared “instantaneously” with other stakeholders.

These renderings will likewise be crucial to other approvals of the project, and are eagerly awaited by city planning officials and Ald. Bob Bauman, who represents the district and has been critical of the lack of solid information he says the city needs from the team to approve construction.

The event took place on a deserted lot that had had a freeway above it for four decades, and one that has stood mostly fallow for the last decade or so since the freeway has been removed. Among the rubble can be seen manholes and other subterranean construction that is in disrepair and must be moved for the construction. Also hidden within the realm of Hades are the buried supports that held the elevated freeway aloft, along with unknown debris that has been deposited on the site over the past 170 years.

Still, the land has been valued at $8.8 million, as a press release by the Abele administration noted. But this “does not account for the cost of sewer removal and replacement ($5.2 million) or the cost of removing abandoned highway foundations left in the ground ($3.1 million),” the release noted. The Bucks owners will also bear “all risk related to other unknown property costs, including environmental remediation costs, which could be significant.” These costs explain why the county sold the property for the token sum of $1, the press release said.

But the release left out the fact that the city is on the hook for undetermined costs, as noted by a city comptroller’s report, “Coordination between Bucks, Milwaukee County, the State of Wisconsin, MMSD, and the City of Milwaukee to remove footings in the Park East Land and to relocate a sewer in the Park East Land to Juneau Avenue – A Cost estimate cannot be determined at this time.” But at a celebratory event like this, no one was computing the exact amount this would leave the Bucks to pay for remediation of the land.

As the crowd gathered for the 2 p.m. event on a sunny afternoon, Feigin and Abele arrived while television camera crews, media, and other interested parties stood in the vacant lot. Two concrete trucks and a giant semi-trailer owned by the Teamster’s union provided the limited backdrop for the event.

“Part the rivers!” Feigin exclaimed at the approach of Bruce Block, the prominent real estate attorney who is the go-to guy for deals like this. Bucks coach Jason Kidd, dressed as if ready to head to the practice facility that very moment, congratulated Abele, saying “it takes a team,” to make big projects happen.

“It’s a beautiful day. You couldn’t ask for a better one. Stopped the rain for you, Peter!” Kidd enthused to his boss.

With the participants assembled, including spectator Tim Sheehy, whose Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce was the arena’s designated cheerleader, Jim Tarantino, the county’s economic development director, pointed to the nearby area where “Kareem Abdul Jabar played his first professional game and Dr. J [Julius Irving] his last.” Tarantino also quoted Cezanne and Van Gogh in his remarks, adding a bit of tone to the proceedings. [The artists’ theme dealt with “the blank canvas,” and the analogies flew readily from there.]

Tarantino yielded the podium to Abele who said he had waited a long time for the event, which he called “an unambiguous win” for the community. This isn’t a study report, or a white paper, he said of the signing ceremony, “this is creating thousands of jobs now. Right now.” Abele said he ran on a program of creating jobs, and now look what we’re getting. “Thousands of jobs now. Right now,” he repeated.

Dan Bukiewicz of the Milwaukee Building & Construction Trades Council said “there is a different wind in this city for development,” citing the NML headquarters and the 833 building now under way as examples. His workers also gave us the Bradley Center, which the arena is to replace, Miller Park, and the old County Stadium and practically every other large project in the city, he said. He linked his union workers to “a championship team,” and said they build family sustaining careers in addition to landmarks.

He was followed by Ken Kraemer, the Construction Labor Management Council and Building Advantage Executive Director. Kraemer said construction employment is expected to reach 15 million man hours in 2016. He thanked Abele “for getting the deal done,” the Bucks organization “for making a difference” and former Bucks owner Sen. Herb Kohl “for having the foresight to pick the right group” to buy his team, leading us to where we are today.

So, to recap, we are now one dollar into the deal. If we can replicate this accomplishment five hundred million times, we will have a new arena. The longest journey begins with but a single step.

Photos From The Ceremony

16 thoughts on “Plenty of Horne: Bucks Sign Contract for Park East Land”

  1. Bob Hopper says:

    Hey, remember when Jason Kidd plead guilty to beating his wife? Remember the other times he was accused of domestic violence? Yeah, neither does anyone in this goddamn city.

  2. Milwaukee Native says:

    Why do Chris Abele’s “job programs” always involve giving away prime county-owned land to mega-wealthy individuals and corporations so they can develop it (Park East, the Transit Center, O’Donnell Park)? Other developers somehow manage to build “feasible” projects without getting land for free or in a sweetheart deal. It’s called the free market.

    Abele is a big advocate of corporate-welfare socialism with trickle-down trickles for the little people. And those “1,000s of jobs, right now!” is that to build the Bucks gold-plated gym? Will the Bucks really pay taxes on it–or their offices?

    Michael, thanks for pointing out that on the top of giving the Bucks owners free land worth $8.8 million, taxpayers will be paying for remediation, debris removal, sewers, etc. with state, county, city and MMSD taxes. Just as city taxpayers will pay $1.5 million to tear down the city garage we’ll give the “Head of the Herd” for free.

    Gosh, what else can we think of to give these guys? Any first-born children or politicians’ souls. Scratch the latter. That deal’s done.

  3. Juli Kaufmann says:

    That’s a whole lotta dudes.

  4. Ryan says:

    @Milwaukee Native:

    Yeah, all those dozen or so big projects that fell through in the free market because the county/city wouldn’t give any assistance to the Park East land. The city/county/state really failed when they didn’t remove the freeway pilings when tearing down the freeway. Without those the land would be really valuable and already have filled up and we wouldn’t even be having this discussion right now. Effectively the land is worthless without massive public subsidy. The free market failed to get that land filled for 15 years.

    Thank God Abele is running this instead of people who hold rigid ideological viewpoints.

  5. M says:

    Abele, the Bucks aand MMAC are masters of fuzzy math:

    Among the jobs created, MU’s Anthony Pennington-Cross’s says there will be 55 new jobs at the practice facility, including “Bucks players and staff.” Talk about double dipping! All those jobs already exist, some with stratospheric salaries. Others will move from the St. Francis facility. The rest of this report is equally dramatic “fiction,” commissioned by MMAC. Most jobs will be in offices by 2027. Wow!


    For comparison, here’s Abele’s fancy, fact-challenged chart about econ impact. It embellishes the APC “study,” which also included new job projections for the Bradley Center site and “entertainment mall,” not just Park East. But facts are over-rated.

    To analyze any of these numbers, start with a few stiff drinks, maybe at one of the arena-area bars the Bucks mall will put the squeeze on…


  6. Milwaukee Native says:


    First, can we agree that it’s been 12 years since freeway demo was completed in 2003? And the Great Recession halted development in MKE and across U.S. for about 5 years.

    Yes, governments like kicking cans down roads. Sounds like they did that with freeway demo. Also with this entire deal for Park East, WCD borrowing that will cost $186M per city comptroller, massive debt for a cash-strapped city and county, etc.

    The county could have given Head of the Herd (what an apt name) a credit for X amount for the developer to cover site prep costs, as they did with MSOE for Viets Field. Mutually beneficial.

    Instead math-challenged King Abele (a college dropout) gave the land away for free AND committed taxpayers to paying for the site prep costs form state, county, city & MMSD funds.

    The Kohl’s deal for Park East reportedly fell apart because employees did not want to commute to downtown instead of Menomonee Falls. It sounds like Bucks Superfan Abele just wanted to show some love for his Sports Gods. He’s used to giving away family money, not negotiating deals.

  7. Dave Reid says:

    @”Milwaukee Native” “taxpayers will be paying for remediation, debris removal, sewers, etc. with state, county, city and MMSD taxes.” Just to be clear that is not actually what the TID report says. It says coordination, not all costs. How much that comes to is uncertain, but I don’t believe that is the entire cost.

  8. Dave Reid says:

    @Ryan Well I agree the lands wasn’t really worth the $8.8 million and should be sold for whatever price gets it on the tax roles. But that doesn’t actually mean the Bucks deal was a good deal to make.

  9. David Holmes says:

    Tearing down the freeway was one of the best things ever to happen to downtown. The pace of redevelopment has been excruciatingly slow, but Milwaukee is a slow growth metro area, and there was (and still is) a huge supply of more attractive development sites and development opportunities in or near downtown, for residential, office, hotels, or mixed use. The vacant former freeway land, and in particular the parcels west of the Milwaukee River, were always destined to develop relatively late in Milwaukee’s downtown urban renaissance. The Pabst Brewery has far superior amenities, but is still waiting for development proposals for three of its vacant parcels nearly 10 years into its redevelopment process. In the absence of the Bucks proposal (and in particular, if the Bucks left town and the area around the Bradley Center became a ghost town), this land could easily sit vacant for another decade.

    The development by the Bucks team seems like a credible way to advance the development timeframe for this area by a decade, even if it’s a sweetheart deal. There is no credible “Plan B” that would offer a development proposal of this magnitude and relative quality by a development team with the financial resources to make it happen on an expedited schedule. This is an unequivocally positive outcome for this land and for Milwaukee.

  10. Dave Reid says:

    @David Holmes There was a very credible offer (at the same time as the Bucks) for much of the Park East. And a lot of the Park East will still stay vacant for many many years anyhow as the Bucks plan is spread out over a decade plus. I do hope they fill it up, but items like the practice facility should not be in the PE (there’s a much better location not that far away).

  11. Ryan says:

    @Dave Reid Are you talking about the offer by a developer (can’t remember the name) for just one of the Park East superblocks for also $1 but then was asking the city to pay all costs to relocate sewers, remove the freeway pilings and cleanup costs. If so, yes that was a credible offer but it’s still not anywhere near the Bucks offer who’ll fill up the entire Park East area and they’ll be paying for at least some of those costs too.

  12. Dave Reid says:

    @Ryan It is true the city doesn’t appear to be paying for all of sewer relocation costs (they are paying some) for the Bucks proposal but they are paying for a new garage in the Park East to the tune of $35 million. And beyond the practice facility (does this even pay property taxes?), which should not be in the Park East, and the city paid for parking garage “mixed use” building (has some apartments, retail, office) nothing proposed by the Bucks in the Park East is guaranteed and is years and years out anyhow. The plan goes to 2027. It’s not to say a deal with the Bucks shouldn’t have happened (though the County portion of the deal is awful), and I’ve always felt the land in the Park East (west of the river) should have a big discount, but the “plan” in the PE is problematic.

  13. M says:

    The Bucks owners have made fortunes in real estate. Give the shrewd billionaires credit for what they have pulled off. They know what they are doing here. They usually have to buy their “distressed assets” (which they called the Bucks franchise). In the case of Park East, they got some slow-moving, but prime, land for free. Now they can afford to pay up to 5 times assessed/appraised value for other nearby parcels.

    Whatever Bucks owners (or more likely, developers they sell to) will have to pay for site prep will be far below the PE land’s appraised value, which will only rise with a new arena and the continuation of development downtown.

    The Bucks owners will “own Milwaukee’s future,” at least in this part of downtown. Just don’t expect them to do anything beyond what strictly serves their bottom line with these 30-plus acres of public land. They own property throughout the U.S. and probably the world. Marc Lasry is a major player in Puerto Rico. MKE will just have to hope for the best.

    And by the time this all plays out, perhaps many of the key deal makers will have moved on or retired…

  14. JM says:


    1) Will you be able to find out who are the members of Head of the Herd?
    2) Will you be able to get copies of the various agreements?

  15. Will says:

    The PE land seemed pretty much worthless as it is, so I don’t see the fuss as to why the $1 sale is a big deal. The fact that no one made a credible offer to develop anything while it stood vacant collecting dust for TWELVE YEARS tells me all I need to know about it being “prime real estate.” It seems trolls view this as an opportunity to bash the evil %1’ers which isn’t terribly surprising. It is amazing that these owners bought the Bucks with the intention of making money…Wow, what a concept! Not to mention the Bucks would have left without the deal going down as it did, which no one ever seems to mention. Given that this is going down in Milwaukee, no matter how great of a deal it was a large amount of uproar is to be expected because if Milwaukeens hate anything its progress in the private sector. It’s amazing 2 New Yorkers could ever even get anything done in this city with the amount of people who view teachers and bus drivers as the lifeblood of Milwaukees economy. Luckily no one cares what these people think and the deal is signed, sealed and delivered! Fear the deer baby!

  16. M says:

    Urban planner Peter Park, who orchestrated the PE freeway demo, told Mike Gousha today he always expected the county’s part of Park East would be the last to be developed.

    Why bash the incredible investments/successes by local developers and other efforts and businesses that have revitalized greater downtown and the Menomonee Valley? Milwaukee is not a damsel in distress just waiting for NY princes to rescue her. Sure, let the visiting billionaires make some bucks here, but why play doormat and make them “master developer” of Westown–with no strings attached?

    The main reason Westown suffers is because of decades of building people-repelling mega-projects–without any thought of human scale and livability. What will a massive soul-less mall with national pub chains add, especially if it siphons from local businesses? Will Westown’s new landlords be visionary and commit to development that truly serves the whole community and economy? Or will everyone just “Fear the Deer” and let them do whatever they please–chips falling where they may?

    Are we really “lucky” that no power brokers care about what citizens think, unless they’re part of an elite? Urban planners say widespread community engagement is the key to successful city development, not top-town fiats. Garbage in, garbage out…

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