Milwaukee funding for new Bucks arena goes before public
MILWAUKEE — The public’s first opportunity to formally comment on part of a $500 million funding plan to build a new Milwaukee Bucks arena attracted an overflow crowd Monday evening, with one group questioning how the city has enough money to help pay for the project but not neighborhood or school investments.
The packed City Hall meeting began the final stage of a process that could see Milwaukee keep or lose an NBA franchise that has called the city home for nearly 50 years. Milwaukee Development Commissioner Rocky Marcoux was scheduled to lay out how the city plans to generate its $47 million share of public funding, while city Comptroller Martin Matson was to present a fiscal analysis.
A spokeswoman for Common Ground, a group opposed to the funding plan, told city leaders during the meeting that if so much money was readily available to build a facility for a professional sports team, there “must also be a similar investment in our neighborhoods and our children.”
“How am I supposed to explain to my daughter that our public officials could find millions of taxpayer dollars to help (the) billionaire Bucks owners build their new, luxury play space, but not a cent for her public school soccer field that’s literally underwater half the season?” Jennifer O’Hear said.
The arena has been the center of a debate over whether public funds should be used to subsidize professional sports teams. Arena supporters say that if the team moves to another city, it would lower Milwaukee’s national profile and potentially reduce the state’s income tax revenue. Opponents argue that wealthy team owners shouldn’t receive public money that would be better spent on education or public safety.
The Wisconsin Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker have approved a funding plan calling for taxpayers to contribute $250 million to the arena over 20 years, although that commitment will grow to $400 million with interest.
Milwaukee would kick in about one-fifth of the public share, using money from special tax zones.
Current and former team owners will spend another $250 million.
Monday’s hearing is before a special committee of leaders on the Common Council, the city’s main governing board. Common Council President Michael Murphy said ahead of the meeting that he wanted to hear from the public before making his decision.
Public funding, he said, is “not my preference.” Murphy also said he wanted to hear details about the development that would surround the arena.
The Common Council will vote on the funding plan Sept. 22. A rejection would leave the city without a way to pay for its share, which would jeopardize the project.
Bucks officials hope to break ground in October. The project has been estimated as having the potential to generate about 15,000 construction jobs.