University should secure naming rights

Don Walker of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Friday that U.S. Cellular, which has owned the naming rights to the U.S. Cellular Arena on 4th and Kilbourn, will not renew the deal, leaving the Wisconsin Center District in need of a new naming sponsor.

It’s bad news again for the WCD, as their announcement of new seating and a new scoreboard was trumped days later by the sale of the Milwaukee Bucks, bringing talk of a new premier arena to the forefront, and with that the question of whether the U.S. Cellular Arena will exist at all in the near future.

Those questions are being raised by members of the Milwaukee Common Council, who in their aldermanic wisdom have decided – without so much as looking at Google Maps – that the perfect place to build the new Bucks arena is right on top of the existing U.S. Cellular Arena space.

A modern NBA facility is 150% the size of the Bradley Center. How do aldermen Murphy and Kovac expect it to fit on the Cell's footprint?

A modern NBA facility is 150% the size of the Bradley Center. How do aldermen Murphy and Kovac expect it to fit on the Cell’s footprint?

This, my friends, is ridiculous on so many levels. The first and most obvious reason, for anyone keeping score on arena sizes, is that modern NBA arenas are around 750,000 square feet. That’s about 50% larger than the current space taken up by the Bradley Center, which as we know is not a modern NBA arena. Hence the discussion.

Second, if they were to decide that this space is where they are going to shoehorn the new arena, they would have to close down State between third and sixth to provide the space needed for the modern arena. Because what we absolutely need is to make traffic more difficult downtown.

Finally, if there’s anything that should go on the Arena space it should be an expansion of the Wisconsin Center, the convention center that brings in a bunch of tourism dollars but is about half the size it should be to be a viable candidate for the biggest conventions in the country.  Of course, the Center could double its size by taking over the surface lots south of Wisconsin Avenue and at the north end of the building, so even that could be done without touching the “Cell.”

I have heard it brought up that the Panthers and Wave should take over the Bradley Center when the new arena is built, but the last thing these teams need is for their 30-40% full arena become a 15-25% full arena. Especially one that is roughly the same size of the brand new building that could be across the street (does any setup like that exist in the world?).

The fact is, the space where the Panthers play should remain the Panthers to play in for years to come. If somehow either the Wisconsin Center or the new Bucks arena take over that space, the university will need to move forward – immediately – with an on-campus convocation center to take care of graduation, concerts and of course, basketball.

Problem with that is, the university hasn’t come close to convincing the city, neighborhood or university community that they can make a viable campus facility happen. We know this, of course, from the Klotsche Center debacle of 2012-13. We know that the wide majority of our fan base – both actual and potential – prefer that games be downtown. Students have shown that winning or losing is far more indicative of student attendance than location.


The Panthers should “own” their space, however long it remains.

My proposal is this: the university should pursue naming rights to their current home, which should come at a steep discount due to U.S. Cellular leaving the picture and the general uncertainty surrounding the facility. Whether the facility has 5 or 25 years left, it should bear the name of its top tenant. Whether that is the Milwaukee Arena (with a big ‘ole Panther logo), the Milwaukee Panthers Arena, or the UWM Arena is not for me to say, although I will.

The Milwaukee Panthers Arena – with our logo blasted and red neon lighting trim on the outside replaced by Old Gold – should be the name of the building before the new season begins. They should also slam a big Milwaukee logo on the east side of the building, just in case the 4th floor of Journal Communications feels the need to keep calling the team the UW-Milwaukee Panthers (Can’t wait til December when they host the UW-Madison Badgers!).

The university can end its branding problem in athletics and secure the best billboard their marketing money can buy by slapping that basketball team’s logo all over the building. They can even help their cause by hopping on board sooner rather than later, which will save some cash and also save face for the WCD.

The university should be rooting for the building to stay, as its destruction would force the school’s hand in pursuing an on-campus solution. There certainly is no room for the team in the new Bucks arena, with the Bucks, Admirals and Marquette occupying the same nights the Panthers need. It would be awful to be the fourth-tier tenant in a facility. A complete lack of dates would force the Panthers to schedule a lot more Judsons and Southwest Minnesota States.

The home for the Panthers needs to continue to be downtown. It has a $25 fee per full-time student that goes towards athletics facilities, and that money could be used toward an on-campus or near-campus arena. But the Panthers have too many facilities needs for that $25 fee to be viable – track and field needs an indoor home, soccer and baseball need indoor practice space, the baseball team has a well-documented need for a new stadium, and the basketball program needs a new practice facility. The good news is this final facility could be achieved inside a new arena.

If the full-time student enrollment stays flat at 24,000 (it has not gone under that number for years), the fee should rake in about $1.2 million per year, which is about $30 million or so over 25 years. That’s not the kind of money that can build a real facility, especially when a chunk of it would have to go towards taking down something else in the process – the Klotsche Center, Union, or something else.

Joe Rice's thesis would be the perfect home for the program and continue the revitalization of the North Avenue neighborhood.

Joe Rice’s thesis would be the perfect home for the program and continue the revitalization of the North Avenue neighborhood.

On the plus side, the donors of the program would be forced to pony up for the new facility, as they no longer could point to the Arena as their preferred alternative. Aside from that, the state and/or city should help the university with constructing a legitimate Division I facility to make up for displacing them.

Milwaukee would do itself justice if it went for broke and pursued Cambridge Gardens, the thesis of alumni architect Joe Rice. We will probably never see this happen (unless I become the next JK Rowling, then there’s no way it won’t happen), but it’s fun to dream. Head over to the original story in September 2011 for Joe’s outstanding thesis. On second thought, with all the development that has happened in that neighborhood in the recent past and all the development happening now and in the near future, the Cambridge Gardens may be able to happen in some way if a proper developer is brought in as a partner.

At the end of the day, the university is going to have to figure out a permanent home, and that question cannot be answered until the question about the new Bucks arena is answered. What I do know is that the most important entertainment district in the state needs answers and they need them fast.

So we’re playing the waiting game. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t “own” our home in the meantime.

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