Fraley's Dailytakes

This Blog will..I repeat WILL Officially Launch in January 2006.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Here We Go Again; Milwaukee Laces Up for Another Stadium Tax

By Brian E. Fraley
For WisOpinion.com

Get ready, Milwaukee. Another battle to publicly fund a sports entertainment complex is right around the corner.

My prediction: The NBA's Milwaukee Bucks, currently owned by gazillionaire U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, will be looking for public assistance for the construction of a new facility within the next 36 months. The recent revelation that the Milwaukee Bucks are now looking for a mere five-year lease at the Bradley Center should be viewed as an ominous bit of news for area taxpayers. The team and the Bradley Center Board were once negotiating a lease agreement of eight or nine years.

So, as Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Michael Hunt opines, “What this [shorter lease] likely means is the inevitable discussion about a new arena has been placed on a faster track.” And as taxpayers by now are well aware, any discussion of a new arena will focus mostly on public subsidies, regardless of the net worth of the team’s owner.

So, how much would the new arena cost? The Charlotte Bobcats' new home was just completed this month. Total costs for design and construction of their facility: $200 million. It is realistic to expect the Bucks’ project price tag to be at least that much, placing it at just under half the price of construction of Miller Park.

Two hundred million dollars? For 41 home games? For Herb Kohl’s team? Even playing .500 baseball and finishing well out of the playoff hunt, the upstart Milwaukee Brewers drew in excess of 2.2 million fans in 81 games this year. If the new Bucks' playground had a seating capacity of 20,000 and in the unlikely event that every home game was a sellout, the total draw would be well under a million, even with the playoffs.

To put this in perspective, the all-time record home attendance for the Milwaukee franchise is 745,305, an average of 18,178 per game, during the 2001-2002 season.Bucks attendance has plummeted 7.7 percent from the previous season -- the highest percentage drop among the NBA’s 30 teams; 637,009 fans paid to see the less than mediocre ballers post a 30-52 record, for an average attendance of 15,537.

The Bucks reached only 83 percent of the capacity of Bradley Center, which holds 18,717 for basketball. Only the Charlotte Bobcats, Atlanta Hawks, New Jersey Nets and New Orleans Hornets played before a higher percentage of empty seats. As is the case with nearly every professional sports franchise that tries to get the public to subsidize their facility, the Bucks will also be looking for better financial deal from the Bradley Center District Board.

Under the terms of the current Bradley Center lease, the Kohl-owned NBA team does not pay one penny in rent, and receives 27.5 percent of total gross receipts from concessions for everything sold during their games, other than daily game programs and all merchandise and food and beverage sales in the luxury suites. For the suites, the team "only'' receives 13.7 percent of gross revenue from food and beverage sales for not only NBA games, but from at all Bradley Center events.

A five-year lease would indicate the team hopes to be playing elsewhere by the 2010-11 season. Given that it takes two years to construct a fully tricked out arena (longer if a current building or buildings need to be demolished first), we are less than two years away from the beginning of a new stadium tax brew-ha-ha in suds city.

History tells us the debate will be expensive, heated, and filled with innuendo, threats and personal attacks. The most pertinent questions will focus on Kohl’s ownership (he’s been trying, not so subtly, to sell the team for years). If Kohl remains the sole or majority owner of the team, any effort to use tax dollars for construction of a new home for the Milwaukee Bucks will be as difficult as trying to figure out the three second and traveling rules in the NBA. So don’t be surprised if he unloads the team before the arena debate begins.

With or without the senator, however, public financing for the benefit of a team like the Bucks will be a tough sell ian area of the state that is at the heart of the property tax revolt. The team, the District Board, and their supporters have their work cut out for them.

Oh, and did I mention the Bradley center is only 17 years old?

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