Wisconsin's Walker signs NBA arena spending plan for Milwaukee

Republican 2016 U.S. presidential candidate Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks to attendees at the RedState Gathering in Atlanta, Georgia August 8, 2015. REUTERS/Tami Chappell (Reuters)

By Brendan O'Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker on Wednesday signed a bipartisan financing plan passed by state lawmakers calling for taxpayers to contribute $250 million toward building a new downtown arena for the National Basketball Association's Milwaukee Bucks.

The financing plan will pay for half of the cost of the new arena and is a key step in keeping the Bucks in the city where they have played for 47 years. The public money is due to come in several forms, including $203 million in bonds.

"We see this as a great deal," Walker, a candidate for the 2016 Republican U.S. presidential nomination, said at a signing ceremony at the State Fair Park in West Allis, Wisconsin.

Walker said the financing plan would provide a "three-to-one return on investment" for state taxpayers and that building the new arena would help revitalize downtown Milwaukee. The governor and other supporters of the financing plan say the new arena would be an economic driver for Milwaukee and the state by generating revenue and jobs.

The plan received bipartisan support as it was approved by the Republican-led state legislature in July. The project still needs approval from Milwaukee's city council and the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors.

"This is just a good example of setting politics aside," Walker said. "This wasn't Republican or Democrat. This was a good example of people (who) came together not only across party lines but from many different places from the state of Wisconsin."

Team officials said a new arena is essential to keeping the team in Milwaukee, as the NBA has told the Bucks it would exercise its option to buy the team and move it to Seattle or Las Vegas if a new arena is not built by 2017.

Team owners Marc Lasry, Wesley Edens and Jamie Dinan, hedge fund managers who bought the Bucks in 2014, have pledged $150 million. Former owner and U.S. senator Herb Kohl has said he will contribute $100 million. Another $500 million in private investment will be spent on adjacent development north of the arena, according to the team.

"Today's signing is the culmination of an extraordinary effort from a broad coalition to not only keep the Bucks in Wisconsin, but revitalize Milwaukee," the Bucks said in a statement.

The Bucks currently play in the BMO Harris Bradley Center, a 27-year-old arena the franchise shares with the Milwaukee Admirals hockey team and Marquette University's men's basketball team.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Will Dunham)