Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Potawatomi Gives $10 Million To Streetcar

Streetcar will be known as The Hop; Potawatomi gift means no operation costs for city.

By - Oct 6th, 2017 05:31 pm
A rendering of a Brookville streetcar in Milwaukee's Third Ward. Milwaukee's streetcars will be manufactured by U.S.-based Brookville Equipment Corp.

A rendering of a Brookville streetcar in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. Milwaukee’s streetcars will be manufactured by U.S.-based Brookville Equipment Corp.

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.

According to Ferguson, Potawatomi views the project as a great way to market the casino, especially to Millennials, many of whom live in Downtown. Ferguson noted that discussions around the deal progressed quickly once he was first approached by Department of Public Works commissioner Ghassan Korban a couple months ago.

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 SideEast 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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More about the Milwaukee Streetcar

For more project details, including the project timeline, financing, route and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.

Read more about Milwaukee Streetcar here

28 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Potawatomi Gives $10 Million To Streetcar”

  1. kLM747 says:

    Great news for the streetcar. I really like the new name for the streetcar and hope this news quiets critics like our esteemed alderman Tony Z. Maybe Tony Z. can apply for a job as a streetcar operator once he loses his aldermanic seat in the next election.

  2. Dudemeister says:

    Love the Hop. Everyone loves the Hop. Everyone!

    This is very good news.

  3. Tom says:

    Great news. Extend the line to the casino, then connect it to Miller Park and the Harley museum, and you’ve got amazing connection between downtown and the Valley

  4. Sam says:

    Okay. I’m still worried this won’t ever expand and become a viable mass transit option for anyone other than tourists.

  5. MidnightSon says:

    Brilliant! It’s great to see the business community on board with this transformative project–and investing in it. Looking forward to additional legs of this nascent system.

  6. tom says:

    Looking forward to hopping on the Hop from east side to enjoy Third Ward food and entertainment.

  7. DemCo says:

    So while suburban Republican legislators continue to do everything they can to kill the Streetcar project and other mass transit options, treating the residents in Milwaukee as children not to be trusted, this is one more business in Milwaukee that sees the value of expanded mass transit options – imagine.

  8. WashCoRepub says:

    Awesome that a business built on bilking people out of their money will be used to support the Streetcar. Strangely appropriate, actually!

  9. Paul M. says:

    Sam, I’d like to see it expanded to reach more people in the city, but it will definitely service more than just tourists. Do you realize how many people combined live in the Third Ward, downtown, and the Lower East Side? It’s one of the densest areas of residence in the entire state.

  10. mkwagner says:

    Yes WashCoRepub, the Forest County Potawatomi Tribe, which is supporting the streetcar, is the same Native American tribe that was bilked out of their land and herded onto reservations after Europeans sickened them with diseases and alcohol. Karma’s a bitch isn’t it.

  11. Tom says:

    It’s not just suburbanites that don’t like the street car. Many people in Bay View, Jackson Park and other south side hoods complain about this project as well. Mostly people over the age of 40 who moved out of the east side 15 years ago and don’t fully realize how densely populated this areas have become. This will be great for our city.

  12. Vincent Hanna says:

    WashCoPartisanHack’s boss and hero was more than happy to accept $150,000 from the Potawatomi Tribe.

  13. GRNDPAKWH says:

    Great news for a great project. Now if we can only figure out a way to place a toll booth on 43 and 94 to tax the anti- Milwaukee suburbanites when they enter our city to take advantage of the many fine offerings.

  14. MKE kid says:

    Great news from the Potawatomi. They have been excellent business partners with Milwaukee for so many years.

    Great comments, Vincent and GRNDPAKWH! Let the grumpy old men from the ‘burbs continue to complain about everything.

  15. Jason Troll says:

    The Potawatomi are the smallest tribe and richest in Wisconsin. An effort was made to help the largest and poorest tribe the Menomonee by allowing them to open a Casino 40 miles south. The City of Milwaukee should be awarded for protecting the interests of the Potawatomi. Barrett slammed Walker for months on being anti Milwaukee for considering helping the Menomonee. Somehow, Tom Barrett wants regional cooperation but when Milwaukee has to actually cooperate financially he goes into a tizzy. A suburb asks for Milwaukee water at a fair price Barrett says no. Also, Congrats to Miracle on Canal street. Potawatomi is the cheapest of all corporate donors, comparing profit to giving and they have found away to serve themselves.

  16. Vincent Hanna says:

    The Troll knows how to identify real charitable giving. What did Scott Walker do to help the Menomonee Troll? You left that part out for some reason. Oh yeah he denied them. Your phony outrage is pure trolling.

  17. JayS says:

    I find it interesting that they “still don’t know” how the City owned StreetCar and the County owned Bus System are going to be integrated;routes and farebox-transfers.

    It will also be interesting to note the first year “it’s a novelty -free ride-” vs. second year “paid” ridership levels.

    If the StreetCar can’t turn a solid profit, is totally self-sustaining financially, in the very densely populated Marquette –Downtown –UWM corridor it should not be expanded beyond that footprint;the bus system is perfectly sufficient for the balance of the public transportation system.

  18. Chuck says:

    “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.'”

    That’t the funniest thing I’ve read in ages. Good luck with that.

  19. David says:

    The streetcar won’t expand much. Regionally, the BRT is a much better option for longer distance regional connectivity. Build the BRT to MRC then expand north, south and NW/SW.

  20. Sam says:

    @Paul I am perfectly aware of how many people live in the footprint of the streetcar route. That doesn’t mean people who live here are going to use it on a regular basis. I am not anti-streetcar and I hope I’m wrong.

    I’m pretty sure the streetcar wasn’t pursued by the city as a viable mass transit option. It seems to be a tourist/development tool first and foremost based on the route, lack of dedicated lanes, seeming lack of signal priority, and questionable integration with existing bus service. A system as compromised as this isn’t really worth much for efficient transportation.

  21. Vincent Hanna says:

    Has anyone been on Kansas City’s? Theirs has been a massive success. Tourists use it but so do people who live and/or work in the area. They hit 2 million rides way before they expected to.

  22. MKE kid says:

    Vincent: Great comment. Who doesn’t remember when members of the Menominee tribe hiked 300+ miles in frigid winter weather in an attempt to meet with Walker to ask if they could purchase the defunct Dairyland Greyhound Park and develop it into a Hard Rock casino? The Menominee tribe also offered to donate several thousand dollars towards construction of the new Bucks arena. Walker didn’t even have the decency to show his face to the Menominee. Even if he turned them down, it would’ve been the honorable and decent thing to do to meet with them. Walker chose to hide.

  23. steven says:

    Kansas City streetcar route is 2 miles long, from Union Station to the Market north of downtown. Great route, and the streetcar is FREE. Might explain their success.

  24. James says:

    KC’s initial linear route is different from MKE’s circular route. KC’s route runs through clusters of public parking and convention / sports centers. MKE’s route is circular centering on hotels and office buildings.

    KC route:

    MKE route:

  25. SteveM says:

    I find it odd that suddenly “many in Bay View” don’t like the streetcar, when I’ve lived there for over 25 years and talk with many, AND they seem to like the idea. Tony Z doesn’t like it, and I’d like to know the real reason why. It just seems odd that one of the arguments against the streetcar is that it doesn’t go far enough, yet opponents want to block it’s extension. Why not connect downtown to the airport? Why not reduce traffic on KK? Why is there such a push against a a regional transit plan? I wish more people would listen to Bill Sell’s wisdom versus TZ’s toxicity.

  26. John says:

    This guarantees that, for at least the first year, the trolley will be a moving sanctuary for the homeless. Have fun millenials!!!

  27. Vincent Hanna says:

    Wait so human beings who are homeless might ride the streetcar??!! Oh man. Good to know John. We need to get the word out. Did no one think of this possibility? Why are we building any car-alternative transportation system when there’s the possibility that non-rich white people could use it? This is an outrage. So glad people of high character like John are willing to speak out.

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