New arena conversation should involve Panthers

With yesterday’s huge announcement that Herb Kohl has agreed to sell the Milwaukee Bucks to New York City hedge fund billionaires Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, the trio of Bucks barons have included a $200 million pledge towards the construction of a new basketball arena to be the home of the Bucks.

Obviously this is a big deal. $200 million in free money towards an arena that could host events up to 250 days a year, bringing a huge influx of cash into the stadium district and the city of Milwaukee? That’s a big step.

But it’s not enough. Not nearly enough. Conservative estimates put the new arena at $400 million, and it’s likely going to cost $500 million to do it right. Which begs the question: if the owners of the team are kicking in less than half the cost of the facility, where are they going to come up with the rest of the cash?

There are lots of solutions out there, almost all of them including some kind of public financing of the project. That could be in a TIF, taxing authority, sales tax, bonds, or any other way the politicians think they can scrape the money together. I’m not a huge fan of making the city taxpayers pay for a private sports facility. The Bucks, Milwaukee Admirals and Marquette Golden Eagles all represent private interests – Lasry and Edens, Harris Turer, and Marquette University.

But what if there were a public twinge to it?

State taxpayers put in a solid chunk of change to help run the Milwaukee Panthers athletics department. Like every mid-major public university athletics program (and a fair amount of high-majors as well). The Panthers play in the U.S. Cellular Arena, owned by another state entity – the Wisconsin Center District.

What if, as part of the proposal, the Panthers’ money that funds their lease with the WCD instead came off the state tax rolls? The lease is around $200,000 a year, which is tip money to the state of Wisconsin. Still, the local taxpayer may find it easier to swallow the massive cost of a new arena if there were at least some state flavor to it.

Obviously this is a ridiculous proposition, but it should definitely be discussed, if only to get the discussion going as to how the only public sports team in the city is left in the cold while the majority of private sports teams are fed public money to construct them a brand new home where they can reap major profits.

If the city, region or state is spending upwards of $300 million or more to fund an arena, shouldn’t the city’s major university be helped as well in its quest for the perfect home?

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