Pro basketball's Milwaukee Bucks formally secured public funding toward a new arena Thursday in move that all but assured the franchise’s long-term commitment to its home state. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker approved a financing bill despite widespread doubts about the long-term economic benefits of publicly funded stadiums.
The bill called for $250 million in combined contributions from the state of Wisconsin and the city and county of Milwaukee over the next two decades, the Journal-Sentinel reported. The city of Milwaukee will put up $47 million in taxpayer money toward necessary parking facilities, with an additional $203 million raised through state bonds, reduced state aid to Milwaukee County and taxes on the hotel and food and beverage industries.
The Bucks’ continued presence in Milwaukee ensured the state would maintain beneficial income taxes, Walker said last month. “It’s critical not only for those who love sports, but the main reason I got into it was because it protected state revenues,” he said, according to the Journal-Sentinel. “That just creates a big hole for everything else. …This was really about protecting the taxpayers of the state.”
Supporters of a new Bucks arena pitched the idea as the centerpiece of a $1 billion project to revitalize downtown Milwaukee. Team co-owners Marc Lasry and Wesley Eden and former owner Herb Kohl -- a former U.S. senator -- vowed to pay half the arena’s cost if the public money could be used to cover the other half, with any cost overages to be covered with private money.
But critics argue the public’s contribution toward the new arena will exceed projections, without any guarantee the city of Milwaukee will experience financial benefits. Though the signed bill allotted $250 million, the actual amount will approach $400 million with interest. Various studies, including a 2008 analysis by sports economists Dennis Coates and Brad Humphreys, have found that publicly funded stadiums do not live up to their projected economic windfalls.
Questions about the motivations behind Walker's decision to support public funding emerged after an International Business Times report revealed Jon Hammes, who is part of the Bucks' ownership group, also heads up fundraising efforts for Walker's 2016 presidential campaign.
Bucks team president Peter Feigen warned last month the franchise could relocate to Seattle or Las Vegas if the plan for a publicly funded arena was not approved, the Milwaukee-Business Journal reported.
The Bucks' current home is the BMO Harris Bradley Center, which opened in 1988. It ranks among the oldest arenas currently used by National Basketball Association teams.