Keeping Arena doesn’t mean losing the Bucks

Lost in the hullabaloo of the past week over the outing of the Milwaukee Bucks’ intentions to raze the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, Journal Communications building and Milwaukee Theater is the fact that none of these buildings have to come down to get the city of Milwaukee what it wants: a new arena to keep the Bucks.

Let’s be clear here: we all want the Bucks to have a new arena. No one wants the city of Milwaukee to lose the Bucks, and a fair amount of the population would be okay with the Bucks getting some kind of public assistance to build their basketball stadium.

What we don’t want, and this can’t be said enough, is for the Milwaukee Bucks to find a different home for the new stadium than right on top of the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, a building that unlike the Bradley Center is not obsolete even though it is almost 40 years older.

And that’s just it – the Arena is not obsolete. People who view it negatively are people who don’t go to games there. They’re using it as a barometer against the Bradley Center, which is an NBA Arena. That would be as unfair as comparing the Panthers themselves to their NBA counterparts across the street.

As far as mid-major arenas go, the Panther Arena is a beautiful utopia for the university. It seats 10,783, a perfect size for a program that puts 10,000 or more in the stands when it hosts the Horizon League Tournament or high-majors like Wisconsin. In contrast to the Klotsche Center, which was built in the 70’s and even then not for intercollegiate athletics, the Panther Arena is a palace. Is it old? Sure, but it doesn’t show its age – something that the Bradley Center can’t say. It’s phenomenal in the world of mid-major basketball, and for that reason enough we need to keep the building standing.

But there’s more. The Panthers are joined by the Milwaukee Wave, Disney on Ice (which by 2016 will be three events per year), Tripoli Shrine Circus and the Brew City Bruisers. And those are just the entertainment events. MATC, MPS, UWM, plenty of academic institutions use the Arena for commencement events. People are so quick to forget that the Arena is a profitable venue with events year-round because they want the Bucks to have a new arena, and damn it if the Panther Arena is going to get in the way.

Wait, what? Where did we get this notion that the Panther Arena is what’s in the way of the Bucks getting their new arena? In what world are the Bucks only able to stay in town if they build an arena over the Panther Arena?

It’s not true. The land the Bucks own north of the Bradley Center is big enough. Add in the Park East corridor and it’s enormous. If the owners want to be able to develop the area around it, where better than the land that they already own and the other land that is empty?

We get it, the Bucks want to be closer to Wisconsin Avenue. How about on Wisconsin Avenue? Jim Shields, architecture professor at UWM and big wig at HGA, proposed a quick set of drawings to take over the surface lot, parking garage and Boston Store/Lofts space between Wisconsin Avenue, Michigan Street, 5th Street and the Grand Avenue mall. The drawings show that an arena could work.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who has skin in the game, is quick to point out that the land there is too small for a new arena the size the Bucks are looking for. Contemporary NBA arenas can be up to 750,000 square feet, or 50% larger than the Bradley Center. So that wouldn’t work.

Except it would, if the Bucks cross Michigan Street and include the former home of Blue Cross Blue Shield and one half of Zeidler Square. That space would be huge, completely revitalizing the Wisconsin Avenue area. Grand Avenue mall would be repurposed to serve all the retail and restaurant development for the new arena, and the hotel space already exists.

The people who should be the biggest proponents of this idea? Marquette. They bus students to the Bradley Center, but for this space students would be able to walk down Wisconsin Avenue. Could you imagine the cool view down the street as a flood of Marquette students heads toward the new stadium? Wow. Not to mention it spiritually extends Marquette’s campus east to 3rd and Wisconsin, something the university is trying to accomplish by crossing the freeway.

The new stadium would be bordered by the beautiful Hilton, beautiful convention center, and beautiful (if largely unused) Grand Avenue mall. It’s by far the best site, as outlined by Bruce Murphy for Urban Milwaukee.

North of the Bradley Center, the Bucks own land up to Juneau. North of that, the Bucks would have free reign to develop the Park East corridor around their new stadium. Without the development here, it’s going to be hard to get someone to develop that land that has stayed vacant since the freeway was destroyed. They won’t say that the best bet for the city to develop that land is for the Milwaukee Bucks to build their new stadium there, or at least adjacent.

The tax code could be influenced to benefit the Bucks and other developers, which would get the monkey that is Park East off our back. Then, taking down the Bradley Center, development in the middle could benefit both the Arena and the Bucks stadium. Say, an enormous parking garage with street level retail, in conjunction with hotel space and a pedestrian mall.

Looking at the Panther Arena, its space is large enough west to east for sure – the Theater, Arena and Journal spaces would be enough for a bunch of development. But the space isn’t tall enough, north to south, for a contemporary NBA arena to go on that space alone. Taking over Kilbourn Avenue is out of the question, so they would have to build over State Street. Real glad we have a bridge over State Street, what with the 10 cars a day that will drive over it once State Street is no more between 6th and 4th street.

What people need to consider is why the Panther Arena is even an option in comparison to the 4th and Wisconsin site or the Park East site. The answer to that is finances.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is shirking its journalistic duty by failing to report on the cheaper, more expansive site to the north of the Bradley Center and the better, more beautiful site at 4th and Wisconsin. You can call it lazy reporting, and with the MJS we’re painfully aware that it’s possible, but the fact remains that the 4th and Wisconsin and Park East sites have one thing in common: once selected, either site means the Journal Sentinel is left holding the bag, scrambling to find someone to buy their buildings on 4th and State. This is their best chance to sell their building, and no one is calling them out for that fact.

The Bucks probably don’t see the Wisconsin Avenue space as attractive. Why? These guys are developers! They want the space where they can be closer to downtown’s best artery but in space where they can develop the retail, restaurant and hotel space they prefer. Then, when they’re ready, they can sell the Bucks and the developments and walk out with a fat load of cash in their pockets. The Bucks sale will net them a profit, but it’s entirely possible they could make even more money selling off all the developed space around it.

So why don’t they favor Wisconsin Avenue as the site? Because their opportunity to make money on all the amenities around it is minimal. The entertainment money around that space would go into the pockets of all those local businesses that have been here for decades or longer.

Were I Marquette, I’d be putting up my money to ensure the arena is at the Wisconsin Avenue site. That’s the site that works for everybody.  It works best for Marquette, best for the Admirals, best for the Panthers, best for the Wave, best for the Grand Avenue Mall, best for all the businesses along Wisconsin Avenue, best for the city, best for the fans who would ride all the bus lines that run down Wisconsin Avenue, best for everyone.

Except a couple developers from New York who want to maximize profits and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, who wants to take their three Pulitzer Prizes (did you know they have three Pulitzer Prizes?) and go to a cheaper space.

It’s that simple. We don’t have to lose the Bucks by keeping the Panther Arena standing. We need to be able to see through the machinations of savvy New York developers and a local newspaper losing credibility by the day.

Sign the petition to urge the Milwaukee Bucks, Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens to keep the Milwaukee Panthers downtown and find a different home for their stadium. Share that with your friends!

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