Potawatomi Gives $10 Million To Streetcar
Streetcar will be known as The Hop; Potawatomi gift means no operation costs for city.
The Milwaukee Streetcar is no longer a political punching bag thanks to Potawatomi Hotel and Casino. The casino will contribute $10 million over 12 years to support the operation of the Milwaukee Streetcar, which will also get a new name as part of the deal. The streetcar, which will now be known as “The Hop, presented by Potawatomi Hotel & Casino,” will receive the new branding in early 2018.
The announcement, kept under tight wraps, was unveiled by Mayor Tom Barrett in an afternoon ceremony at the Milwaukee Public Market. And while project opponents will continue to call the project Tom’s Trolley, the mayor was quick to address project criticism. “Why are we doing this? Because the streetcar promotes economic development that benefits everyone.”
The Mayor praised Potawatomi Hotel & Casino CEO Rodney Ferguson as “instrumental in working with us to get where we are today.” Ferguson echoed the mayor’s remarks around the project, noting “we are extremely confident the streetcar will serve as a catalyst for economic development here and throughout the region.”
Part of Forest County Potawatomi’s contribution will go to fund free rides in the first year of operation for The Hop, a cost estimated at $700,000. Additional support for the initial 36 months of operation will come from a federal grant the city has secured. The Potawatomi contribution ensures that the streetcar operations will have no budget impact until at least 2021.
Would Potawatomi like to see the streetcar extended to the casino? Yes, but Ferguson noted he didn’t know where that was in the plans and that their investment was more about being able to advertise to a downtown audience with what he characterized as “mobile billboards.” Ferguson noted “it brings more awareness to the casino.”
Why The Hop? Korban noted that he hopes the simple name, “The Hop, hop on, hop off,” will become a common phrase among those in the city. The commissioner explained that the name came after meeting with a diverse group of community stakeholders, all of whom noted the project should be branded something other than “The Milwaukee Streetcar.”
Joining the mayor and commissioner in attendance were council members Robert Bauman, Nik Kovac and Jose G. Perez. Bauman, a longtime streetcar supporter, was given the microphone to say a few words. The downtown alderman praised Potawatomi, noting that “Potawatomi Casino probably has the most diverse workforce in the City of Milwaukee.” The alderman went on to call Potawatomi a “strong corporate citizen” before adding this wry line of praise: “Forest County Potawatomi, despite their being a sovereign nation, is much easier to deal with than many private developers.”
Bauman went on to suggest the Potawatomi support should end the political fight around the project, saying “I suspect that once and for all the politics have left this project. There is nothing left to complain about.” While that may be a tad optimistic given the project’s past history, the project will now have no impact on the city budget for the next four years. The Potawatomi contribution eliminates the need for the city to fund two positions proposed in the 2018 budget for a streetcar project manager and streetcar safety manager.
Bauman noted that despite the council having to vote on the project multiple times since 2011, not a single streetcar proponent has been replaced by an anti-streetcar council member in the two elections held since. He called for the press releases, press conferences and failed recalls attacking the project to stop.
The initial phase of The Hop, which will connect the Lower East Side, East Town, the Historic Third Ward and Westown, is scheduled to begin operation in late 2018. An extension along E. Michigan and E. Clybourn streets to the lakefront is scheduled to begin operation in late 2019. Kiewet Infrastructure continues to lead the construction of the line across much of the route.
The city has entered into a maintenance and operation agreement with multinational conglomerate Transdev to operate the system at a cost of $3.6 million annually. The city will fund those costs through partnerships (including Potawatomi’s support), grants and farebox revenue, with additional funds coming from the city’s parking fund. In attendance at the ceremony was Transdev manager Darryl Simpson, who will lead the project locally.
The city is still negotiating final terms on the deal with Potawatomi. Korban stated that while Potawatomi’s contribution is significant, the city is still seeking additional sponsors.
Why Announce on a Friday Afternoon?
The deal was announced at 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, a time traditionally used by politicians to dump bad news. Why release good news then? A likely-heated budget hearing is coming up on Monday evening, and the announcement takes the streetcar off the table as a punching bag. Opponents of the mayor’s budget will no longer be able to say the streetcar is why the proposed budget eliminates 75 firefighters and 33 police officers. The more obvious cause of the budget cuts were noted in a press scrum after the streetcar announcement, where the mayor reiterated his “Milwaukee dividend” campaign that illustrates how state shared revenue is increasingly shortchanging the city.
MCTS Collaboration Still Needed
Not discussed at the ceremony was the need for the city to make a deal with the Milwaukee County Transit System over the use of inter-operable farebox technology. While the streetcar continues to get lots of attention, both positive and negative, MCTS quietly provides over 140,000 rides every day using a fleet of approximately 440 buses. A successful future for both systems will require collaboration between the city and county.
For those looking to take mass transit to the casino today, including many of the complex’s 2,600 employees, route 14 of the Milwaukee County Transit System remains the only way to get there.
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For more project details, including the project timeline, financing, route and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.
- Eyes on Milwaukee: Is A Couture Deal Finally Coming? - Jeramey Jannene - May 13th, 2020
- Transportation: SUV Driver Runs Into The Hop - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 28th, 2020
- Transportation: Streetcar Kiosks Could Bring In $500,000 Annually - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 20th, 2020
- Thanks A Million, Hop Riders! - The Hop - Feb 19th, 2020
- Transportation: We Energies Will Sponsor Streetcar - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 10th, 2020
- Transportation: Streetcar Ridership Up in January Versus 2019 - Jeramey Jannene - Feb 7th, 2020
- Transportation: Streetcar Ridership Up in December - Jeramey Jannene - Jan 14th, 2020
- Transportation: Ridership Falls for The Hop - Jeramey Jannene - Dec 16th, 2019
- Transportation: The “Holiday Hop” Streetcar Debuts - Jeramey Jannene - Nov 21st, 2019
- No money for police, lead hazard issues or infrastructure, but let’s pump up the streetcar we can’t afford - Ald. Tony Zielinski - Nov 1st, 2019
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