The Milwaukee Bucks, their fans, business community leaders and numerous local and state politicians participated in a groundbreaking ceremony Saturday to celebrate the start of construction of a new arena in downtown Milwaukee for the NBA team.
“This is a historical day for the Milwaukee Bucks and a transformational day for the city of Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin,” said Bucks television announcer Jim Paschke.
The arena will be built just north of the Bucks’ current home, the BMO Harris Bradley Center, adjacent to the Park East corridor in downtown Milwaukee.
Speakers at the ceremony praised the Bucks’ owners and state and local officials for working together on a deal to build the arena. But former Bucks owner and former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl received the most praise. Again and again speakers thanked Kohl for working to keep the NBA franchise in Milwaukee and for contributing $100 million to the arena project.
“(Kohl) could have sold this team for hundreds of millions of dollars more (to the highest bidder that would move the team elsewhere),” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said. “But he said to the NBA, ‘This team is staying in Milwaukee.’”
“I’m grateful the Bucks are going to be here for an indefinite period of time,” Kohl said. “We thank (the current Bucks owners) for your commitment to Milwaukee. You’re not all from Wisconsin, but you are (now) Wisconsinites.”
The funds contributed by Kohl combined with funds committed by the current Bucks ownership group will pay for at least half of the $500 million arena project. The Bucks owners have agreed to pay for any cost overruns. The public will pay for $250 million of the project in funds from the state, county, city and Wisconsin Center District.
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Several speakers praised the bipartisan support the project received in the state Legislature and the support of local officials.
“Lawmakers from across the state came together,” Gov. Scott Walker said. “They understood this wasn’t just good for Milwaukee. They understood this was good for everyone in the state of Wisconsin.”
“We can do this,” Barrett said. “We can work together when we believe and we try to make something positive happen.”
Speakers also highlighted the jobs that will be created by the construction project and additional development around the arena planned by the Bucks owners and by other developers.
“This isn’t just about basketball,” Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele said. “This is about economic development. The past is an empty Park East (corridor). The future is thousands of jobs. This is one project. There are going to be more.”
In addition to the arena, the Bucks owners say they plan to build an additional $500 million in development around the arena, including a team practice facility and other mixed-use development.
“I want everyone to stop and look around, and remember what it looks like,” said Wes Edens, one of the principal owners of the Bucks. “Because (the Park East corridor area) is never going to look like this again. We want this to be a destination. We want to turn it into the vibrant heart of the city.”