While the debate over the merits of public funding for sports arenas continues to rage on, the Milwaukee Bucks' attempt to receive public subsidies from the state of Wisconsin appears to be near its conclusion. The Republican-controlled state senate voted 21-10 (with bipartisan support) in favor of a measure to spend $250 million in support of a new Bucks arena on Wednesday. The new building would allow the Bucks to move out of the BMO Harris Bradley Center, the team's home since 1988 and one of the oldest arenas in the NBA.
The measure will now head to the 99-person state assembly, where it is expected to pass. The deal will also have to be approved by the Milwaukee Common Council, but it now looks highly likely that the Bucks will play in a new arena and stay in the city for a long time, or at least until they request another publicly funded arena.
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Jason Stein and Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel have more on Wednesday's news:
The plan would preserve Milwaukee's stake in professional basketball but at a cost to state, city and county residents, who ultimately would pay $400 million, when accounting for interest over 20 years.
"This deal has taken a lot of work, but the Bucks are big bucks for Wisconsin," said Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), who voted for the plan. "It's not been easy. It's not been pretty. But finally, we've all been at the table." [...]
Building the arena is expected to initially cost $500 million, with half coming from the public and half from owners and former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, the team's former owner. [...]
Sen. Tim Carpenter (D-Milwaukee) said in a statement he holds season tickets to the Bucks but couldn't vote for the package because it was put together without enough public input and "the burden of paying for the construction of the new arena should fall on those who would benefit from its construction."
The deal, first proposed by governor and presidential candidate Scott Walker in April, has garnered a great deal of attention in past weeks, especially following a Sunday night feature from HBO series and viral-video manufacturer "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver." The show's argument against public funding followed a familiar path — that the vast majority of economists believe and have proven that new stadiums do not help local economies, that billionaire Bucks owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens are perfectly capable of paying for and/or raising money for the cost of the building, and that it's fun to explain these points with funny jokes. It's also notable that an April poll from Marquette University Law School found that the public was overwhelmingly against funding the arena with $150 million, well short of the figure up for vote.
The good news is that Wisconsin's professional basketball fans will likely see their favorite team stick around for several decades. Not passing the arena funding measure would have inspired the relocation of the Bucks, either via team president Peter Feigin's regular threats to move the franchise to Seattle or Las Vegas or a provision that allows Lasry and Edens to sell the franchise back to the NBA at a relatively minor profit if no arena deal is reached. While Milwaukee has recently been considered one of the least desirable markets in the league, the Bucks have a rich history and ongoing support that would make relocation a problematic outcome.
However, one positive result does not necessarily mean that the proposed deal is right for Wisconsin and Milwaukee or a fair manipulation of the legislative process. Although Forbes ranked the Bucks as the NBA's least valuable franchise in January, Lasry and Edens still shelled out $550 million to buy the team from Kohl in 2014, enough of a commitment to suggest they thought it to be a fair price. For that matter, their arena contribution of $150 million (Kohl pledged $100 million when he sold the team) seems minor given that they stand to benefit most from the construction of a new arena. Very little evidence suggests that the Bucks absolutely had to pursue public funding to build it — rather, Lasry and Edens saw an opportunity to work with willing state legislators and exploited the situation to their benefit. For NBA owners, what can be negotiated usually wins out over a reasonable allocation of responsibility.
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