WisBusiness: Some Think Soccer Stadium Could be Part of Milwaukee Downtown Redevelopment

By Gregg Hoffmann

MILWAUKEE – With a decision on the stalled PabstCity development looming as soon as Tuesday, another proposal to build a soccer stadium downtown has sparked increased discussions about how to develop large tracts of land extending north of the Bradley Center.

Milwaukee sports lawyer Marty Greenberg heads an investor group that wants to bring a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise to town and build the stadium as part of a development featuring retail and housing. Greenberg has said that the privately financed development could cost from $300 million to $500 million.

Greenberg said at a press conference earlier this month that the stadium could produce up to 1,000 jobs and bring as many as 500,000 spectators a year.

The group has brought in Peter Wilt, who started his career with the Milwaukee Admirals and Wave and eventually was picked the MLS Executive of the Year with the Chicago Fire. Wilt helped convince officials in Bridgeview, Ill. to build the Fire a new facility.

Greenberg’s group wants the development in the Park East area, but city officials have balked at that idea. Focus then shifted to the Pabst property, which has been earmarked for a $317 million development.

Another possible location for a stadium is just north of the Bradley Center. Tim Krause, who owns the Wave indoor team and Wave United outdoor team, proposed a 20,000-capacity stadium for that site a few years ago.

But the Bradley Center board has an option on the land and has been discussing for months the possibility of expanding the BC to that site.

The PabstCity aspect of the issue seems to loom more imminent. A Common Council vote on city financing for PabstCity is set for Tuesday. Developers have asked for $41 million in city financing help.

PabstCity has three anchor tenants: a House of Blues concert venue, a GameWorks gaming center and a 10-screen Marcus Corp. theater. The developers are Wispark LLC and Ferchill Group of Cleveland. Some believe a soccer stadium could fit into the development.

One of those believers is Ald. Tony Zielinski, who was one of three aldermen to vote recently to postpone approval of the city financing for PabstCity. Zielinski has contacted Greenberg about putting the stadium at the PabstCity site.

“I think Pabst would be a suitable destination point for them,” Zielinski said in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story. “I think it would be a good fit, and they’ve got the resources to make it happen.”

Wispark executives deny knowing anything about a soccer stadium proposed for the Pabst site.

The Bradley Center Factor

Switching to the Bradley Center and Park East corridor, discussions over possible expansion of the BC, to include more revenue streams for the Bucks and bring in additional big name entertainment, started a couple years ago.

Delays in any decisions have made it difficult for Sen. Herb Kohl to sell the Bucks. Kohl has said for a year or so that the team no longer is on the market, but insiders will tell you he would entertain offers.

The BC reportedly became an issue when Kohl spoke with a group headed by former NBA great Michael Jordan over a year ago. It is considered outdated for NBA basketball.

BC officials have remained rather quiet on the newest soccer stadium proposal, but they are still believed to covet the site directly to the north of the facility. Talks behind the scenes reportedly continue. Some observers believe the time has come for the BC board to propose an actual expansion plan.

If you move the soccer site farther to the east, closer to the Water Street area on the edge of the former Park East corridor, opinions become mixed. Some county officials like the site.

Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker stopped short of endorsing the project but has said the Park East area seemed to be an excellent location. Mayor Tom Barrett has not taken a stand on the site, but other city development officials oppose it.

The city and county own the lion’s share of the 64 acres in the Park East redevelopment area. Wilt and Greenberg said at a press conference that they would seek $25 million in tax-incremental financing from the city of Milwaukee if a stadium were built in the corridor area.

The stadium itself would cost $40 million to $60 million and would host 40 to 60 events a year, including Major League Soccer and international soccer matches; NCAA and youth soccer games; concerts and other community events.

Besides Greenberg, investors are developer Rick Bergman, James Mazzulla, an internist, and Ashok Kumar, a vascular surgeon. The four have formed Pegasus ParkEast Partners, a holding company for Milwaukee Professional Soccer.

Greenberg said the four, plus 10 additional investors, would serve as the ownership group for the stadium and the team. The additional, undisclosed investors are from the area, Cleveland and Chicago, he said.

Other Obstacles

Bergmann recently disclosed that he is under investigation by a federal agency but insisted that matter and a related lawsuit in Milwaukee County would be cleared up. Bergman, of Grafton, declined to name the federal agency that was involved.

The lawsuit states that Bergman owes a Delafield bank more than $288,000 for allegedly failing to repay a loan.

Recent studies also have shown that sports entertainment might have reached the saturation point in Milwaukee. Four years ago, a SportsBusiness Journal study concluded that Milwaukee could not support either a soccer or National Football League franchise.

Another more recent study by American City Business Journals included Milwaukee in its list of overextended sports markets. The study said Milwaukee needed an additional $30 billion in total personal income to supports its existing teams.

Wave United withdrew from the United Soccer Leagues A-League — the top minor-league division — prior to this summer season and now plays an independent schedule tied in with the various ethnic festivals in Milwaukee.

A few years, the Milwaukee Rampage folded after winning a title, leading to the creation of Wave United. The Wave has had success indoors, but moved a couple years ago from the Bradley Center to the U.S. Cellular Arena because of attendance problems.

Amateur soccer, including the well-known Bavarians and other ethnic-based teams, has proven popular in Milwaukee, but that support has not necessarily translated to the pro game.

Greenberg and Wilt know of the studies, but insisted at their press conferences that big time soccer can make it in Milwaukee. “Soccer is a sport for the new America,” Wilt said. “Milwaukee can support an MLS team, and it can thrive here.”

Greenberg said the stadium could be a “new urban playground for our city.”

“Milwaukee and Wisconsin deserve soccer at the highest level,” Greenberg said. MLS is looking to expand from 12 to 14 teams in 2007. A new stadium would be essential to attracting a team.