Bucks owners hope to buy Park East land for $1 for arena development; some not happy with that plan

MILWAUKEE -- Some Milwaukee County supervisors don't like the idea of selling vacant land in the Park East corridor for just $1. A proposal would allow the Milwaukee Bucks owners to purchase the land for $1, and those backing the sale point out the land has been vacant for a decade, and there is now a plan for it. Critics of the proposal say Milwaukee County should get more money for the land.

The owners of the Milwaukee Bucks submitted a proposal to Milwaukee County to buy the vacant land west of the Milwaukee River in early April. The Milwaukee Business Journal says the Bucks would buy almost 10 acres of public land in the Park East corridor for $1 -- for an envisioned $400 million in development over more than 10 years.

The Milwaukee Business Journal says the land price would be set at $1 because of the high cost of preparing the land for development, which includes dealing with underground sewers and piers from the now-demolished Park East Freeway spur. The Bucks also would commit to local hiring requirements for the Park East projects.

John Weishan

The owners envision 1.5 million square feet of residential, office, parking, retail and other new development on four city blocks.

"The idea that a legislative body would somehow be cut out of the process, I think, is totally inappropriate," Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan said.

Weishan is responding to what he calls hearsay -- that state lawmakers would seek to curb the Milwaukee County Board's authority to approve land sales should the Board reject the Park East offer.

Weishan says the Park East land is too valuable to sell for $1.

"The fact is that property`s worth $8.9 million and we`re looking at this from our investment point of view. Will we really get back the economic activity that`s being proposed or is that just pie-in-the-sky?" Weishan said.

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele

"That does not, however, include removal of the Park East pilings which are still there from when the Park East came down, which are not without significant expense. I mean, millions," Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said.

Abele says focusing on the $1 price-tag is short-sighted.

"You don`t make money on selling the land. You make money on the thousands of new jobs, millions in new tax revenue and the increase of property values and the development that comes with it," Abele said.

"If it weren`t for the arena, we wouldn`t even be having a conversation about this land," Tracy Johnson said.

Johnson is president of the Commercial Association of Realtors. She says the sale of the Park East land to the Milwaukee Bucks owners is attractive because everything is connected -- one arena, one development, one district.

"We really look at the Bucks ownership and we look at that entire vision that they have. You see mixed-use, you see office, you see retail and you say `I really get this vision,'" Johnson said.

"Just because they`re nice people from New York and they`ve made a commitment to the Milwaukee Bucks doesn`t mean they should get development opportunities other people wouldn`t be able to have," Weishan said.

Before there can be a vote by the County Board in Milwaukee, or potential maneuvering in Madison, there will be a public hearing on the proposed sale of the Park East land.

"It has the potential to transform the city of Milwaukee. This is a huge land sale on the park east publicly owned land, and there`s a lot of public funds involved," Milwaukee County Board Chairwoman Marina  Dimitrijevic said.

“Many of the conversations about these developments are happening in Madison, outside of the reach of most Milwaukee County residents. We invite the community to this hearing, which is being held at night outside of the Courthouse to maximize public participation," said Supervisor Patricia Jursik, Chairwoman of the Economic and Community Development Committee.

The hearing will kick off with presentations on the proposal at 5:30 p.m., and start receiving testimony at 6:00 p.m. from the public. Milwaukee County officials, including the County Executive and the Director of Administrative Services, as well as Milwaukee Bucks ownership representatives have been invited to present to the public on the proposals.

“Residents are encouraged to join the discussion about this project that involves significant public financing,” Dimitrijevic said. “We look forward to hearing from you.”