PantherU

Journal stands to gain

Sh0ckwaves have been sent throughout the Milwaukee area with the bombastic proposal to solve the city’s arena problem by David Uihlein Jr., architect and son of Jane Bradley Pettit, whose original $90 million donation to the city funded the construction of what is now the BMO Harris Bradley Center. It seems that everyone has an opinion, but being the son of the biggest basketball building’s biggest benefactor allows Uihlein a bigger megaphone.

For those who don’t know, Uihlein’s proposal is to raze the Bradley Center, the Milwaukee Theater and the Milwaukee Arena to make way for the enormous building that will replace them. The Bradley Center, while absolutely satisfactory for the Admirals and Marquette, falls far down the totem pole in the NBA. Without a new arena, the Bucks are gone. Without a building under construction, the moving trucks could be gassed and tire pressure checked as soon as 2017. The Bucks have not been popular in the city for decades, apart from a few weeks in 2001 and again when the “Fear the Deer” craze ran through a few years back. But a new arena, coupled with the most promising young nucleus since Kareem, could change minds.

So the lines have been drawn. Arena or bust. Plenty of people with influence have thrown out their ideas, with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel keeping up with all of them; Uihlein’s latest proposal was countered by an article today from Franklyn Gimbel, head of the Wisconsin Center District that runs the Arena and Theater as well as the ‘whatever airline has the naming rights this week’ convention center.

The reason Uihlein’s proposal is making waves is for a few reasons; for one, he proposes that all the money should be through private fundraising, none from the taxpayers. That in and of itself is a wildly popular opinion, especially in an election year with a heavily Republican statehouse coming up for election. Another reason is that the building would make a lot of sense; it needs that much space to be as big as it needs to be (about 50% larger than the BC), and that space is closer to the heart of downtown and brings the west side of the river closer together, not to mention the benefit of having the new arena right next door to the convention center and the possibilities that brings for conventions.

Perhaps the biggest reason, though, is that the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has put his proposal front and center. Not only was it given heavy coverage in the print edition of the paper, but JSOnline carries a flash presentation that looks pretty sweet. A couple weeks ago, when four different proposals from Zilber and HGA were put in the space south of the convention center on 4th and Wisconsin, JSOnline merely tagged a few mockups in the article online. Mobile readers, a high percentage of JSOnline’s readers, could not see those mockups done by HGA.

So why does Uihlein get front-and-center billing and Zilber’s group, which actually had something to show, get pushed to the background?

Simply put, Journal Communications stands to gain big if Uihlein’s idea comes to fruition.

The arena is going to be one of the biggest stories of the decade once it gets approved. But obviously sports arenas aren’t the only thing going on. Elsewhere around 4th and State, the Fourth Estate’s heavy hitter is at a crossroads. Journal Communications is in the process of selling off its broadcasting arm, encompassing WTMJ Radio and WTMJ-4 TV, to E.W. Scripps. Once that happens, Journal Communications will become the Journal Media Group, covering all the print and news media left behind.

Besides the business, what’s left behind is the Journal Communications building, which houses the newspaper kitty corner from the Bradley Center and across 4th street from the UWM Arena. We’ve arrived at our destination.

With the company splitting and downsizing, is it such a crazy idea to assume that they envision Journal Media Group taking residence somewhere else, and the best way to unload a soon-to-be overlarge building would be to ensure its footprint is part of plans for the brand new arena.

I don’t think it’s a crazy idea. It sounds par for the course for a company that made many of its employees rich and then pulled the rug out from under them in a public-entity money grab.

Of course, razing the arenas and theater brings about plenty of problems in the meantime that Uihlein has likely given no thought. Are the Bucks going to play at the Kohl Center 80 miles west in the meantime? Is Marquette supposed to play at the 4,000-seat on-campus Al McGuire Center, or down by their alumni base in Chicago? Does UWM exist in his scenario? What happens when you replace all these buildings and you are left with one big house for the Bucks, Golden Eagles, Admirals, Wave, and Panthers, who all play roughly the same season? That better be a big house.

As for Uihlein directly, my biggest question is this: if this surely is the best proposal, and if the money should come from private sources, why doesn’t Uihlein pony up a significant chunk of the cash himself? He is an heir to three great Milwaukee families: the Uihleins, the Bradleys and the Schlitz fortune. I’ll sign on if he matches his mother’s original $90 million. It would be quite a fitting move for the conservative Bradley Foundation: keep the arena’s price tag off the tax rolls and get it done by private funds.

In the picture at the top, I’ve outlined the spaces as such: red for the Bucks’ color, gold for the Panthers, and green for Journal Media Group’s wallet.

Put your money where your mouth is. The Journal prefers you put it in their pocket.

2 Comments

  1. Boyee

    September 27, 2014 at 5:38 pm

    Why can’t they just expand the Bradley Center. It seems ridiculous to have to tear down 2 arenas and a theater to build a new arena. Why did the Bucks not complain about playing in the Bradley Center all those other seasons? Wisconsin taxpayers should not have to spend a single penny to support an arena for a private business (Milwaukee Bucks). Aso, how many care about the Wave? Also, if the new arena isn’t built and the Bucks leave Milwaukee, what city would they leave for?

  2. Jimmy

    September 30, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    1. The Bradley Center does need to come down. You can’t just make a building that size bigger, the structure that houses it is too small.

    2. The Bucks have been complaining for quite awhile.

    3. I agree with you about no taxes. Hell, UWM, a public entity, hasn’t built an arena on campus because they don’t want to dip into public tax dollars for it.

    4. The Wave exist, therefore they matter in the conversation. Thousands show up to their games, whether or not you do is up to your entertainment dollar. I do think eventually the Wave will fold, but for now they exist, so they are part of the conversation (if not participating in it).

    5. Plenty of cities have possibilities. Louisville and Seattle have ready-made NBA quality arenas or plans to build them. Las Vegas would probably have one built without tax dollars by one of the casinos. Other possibilities include Virginia Beach, Kansas City, Pittsburgh or multiple places in California.

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