Group rallies at Capitol in support of Bucks arena, funding plan: "One of the top legislative priorities"

MADISON -- A plan to pay for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena in downtown Milwaukee was unveiled last Thursday, June 4th in Madison, and now, lawmakers and other key players are focused on getting the funding plan approved. This, as the Milwaukee County Board has set a public hearing to discuss the funding plan and the sale of vacant land in Milwaukee's Park East corridor. On Monday, June 8th, a group of community and business leaders gathered at the Capitol to rally support for the arena and the recently-unveiled funding plan.

If you compare the effort to get a new Bucks arena built to a Bucks game -- there's work being done both on and off the court.

"This is one of the top, if not the top legislative priorities this year," Tim Sheehy with the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce said.

Community and business leaders gathered Monday at the Capitol to announce their support for the arena and its funding plan.

Under the plan announced by the Governor, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, Speaker of the Assembly Robin Vos (R-Rochester), and state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), state and local sources would invest a maximum of $250 million toward construction of a new downtown Milwaukee arena.   Current and former owners of the Milwaukee Bucks have already pledged $250 million of their own money toward the project.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce has reached out to its members -- making 4,000 contacts with legislators, pushing for the arena. The Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Milwaukee Urban League, the Commercial Association of Realtors and others organizations have joined the MMAC in pushing for a new Bucks arena.

Business leaders were prepared Monday to answer questions about why $250 million worth of public financing towards the $500 million proposal is a good idea in the long run -- with the promise of jobs and development on unused and underused land in downtown Milwaukee.

Representatives with the Milwaukee Urban League say they're reaching out to the African-American community through conversations and community media outlets.

"Educate and inform members of our community -- and that is extremely important," Ralph Hollmon with the Milwaukee Urban League said.

Ken Kraemer, who heads Building Advantage, an organization the represents tradespeople and union contractors says there's already lots of buzz over this new arena project.

"Run into two developers who are already talking about 'how do I get a piece of the Bucks? How do I get some of that southeast corridor?' We haven't heard that kind of conversation in 10 years -- that kind of excitement," Kraemer said.

While those who gathered at the Capitol Monday are working to push this project forward, there are others who are hoping to slow it down. Some in Milwaukee County are opposed to a plan to sell vacant Park East land to the Milwaukee Bucks for $1.

And lawmakers in Madison are working to determine whether the Bucks arena funding plan will be included in the state budget, or voted on as a stand-alone measure.

The groups participating in Monday's rally at the Capitol were all members of “Play it Forward Wisconsin,” a coalition of business and community interests working together to support construction of a new arena.

The Milwaukee County Board has announced a public hearing set for next Tuesday, June 9th to discuss proposed economic expansions in the Park East corridor.

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.

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

"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.”