Bucks important, but not sole, part of proposed entertainment district
Panelists at forum discuss funding new arena

By Dave Fidlin - Special to The Post

April 29, 2015

MILWAUKEE - While a new Bucks arena is at the heart of discussions surrounding a so-called entertainment district in downtown Milwaukee, several prominent city leaders asserted it was one piece of a larger puzzle at a forum Tuesday.

Fittingly, the BMO Harris Bradley Center - the 27-year-old structure that currently hosts the Bucks and could be razed within the next several years - was the host site for the panel discussion.

Community organizers and professionals discussed the range of big-picture possibilities that could arise alongside the Bucks’ need for a new stadium to comply with NBA requirements. Several hundred people attended the forum.

“This is quite an opportunity, but it’s also quite a responsibility,” said architect Greg Uhen, the CEO and design partner with Eppstein Uhen Architects, the local company brought into the fold to design some of the entertainment district’s components.

That opportunity, however, will not be realized unless the perfect blend of financing options comes together.

The Bucks franchise has agreed to pony up $250 million toward a new arena, while the ownership group has pledged an additional $150 million. Also at the table is former Bucks owner and Sen. Herb Kohl. He has offered $100 million.

Public financing from state, county and city officials could be necessary to see the rest of the project through.  

Bucks ownership recently unveiled renderings - some areas more fleshed out than others - for building a new arena near the current Bradley Center facility.

Alongside the new arena -  bound by West Juneau Avenue, North 4th Street, West Highland Avenue and North 6th Street - a series of ancillary developments have been eyed for the Park East corridor.

All told, the project could cost some $1 billion.

Uhen and the other four panelists said there are numerous forces behind planning for the region.

“I love this community,” said Cory Nettles, a minority owner of the Bucks and founding and managing director of Generation Growth Capital. “I believe this city has some major assets. But they’re incredibly underutilized.”

Local developer Greg Grunau said he saw limitless potential if the full plans for the entertainment district are realized. Downtown Milwaukee, he said, could be active throughout the day and night with a mix of visitors.

“Quite frankly, I think that’s where it’s going to get exciting,” Grunau said.

The panelists wholeheartedly supported creating an entertainment district and ensuring the proper funding for it.

No panelist could assure a new arena would enjoy a long life, though several, including Uhen, suggested a benchmark minimum of 50 years.

For the panelists, there is little choice but to invest in the Bucks and  surrounding arena.

“It would hurt every part of our economy,” Grunau said, when asked what he believed would be the result if the Bucks left Milwaukee.