Former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl pledged to make a compelling case for a public investment in a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks as he introduced the prospective new owners.
Kohl, who bought the team years ago to keep the franchise in Milwaukee, reached a deal with hedge fund billionaires Wesley Edens and Marc Lasry for $550 million, pending league approval. As part of the agreement, the new owners have pledged $100 million toward a new facility, while Kohl will put up another $100 million.
Kohl, who has owned the team for 29 years, touted the deal for keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee, one of his goals in a sale. City officials hailed the $200 million commitment toward a new multi-use arena downtown.
Edens says he would like to have a new arena planned, designed and funded over the next year or so.
Edens noted other NBA arenas have cost roughly $400 million, saying the $200 million already pledge would put the team halfway to financing the new building.
“That’s a reasonable timeline,” Edens said. “Day one it’s just a matter of trying to sit down and figure out, assess the situation both in terms of financing and design, and get it moving ahead.”
Efforts to replace the aging BMO Harris Bradley Center have hit a series of roadblocks over the years. There has also been resistance to using public dollars to finance a replacement, particularly from suburban counties.
Kohl said financing the arena would be aided by “many sources, public and private.”
He said the effort to find private money to finance a new arena would continue, acknowledging the less public money requested, the better.
Kohl said he spoke with Gov. Scott Walker about the sale, adding the Bucks would make the case to Walker and other public officials they were presenting a positive opportunity to Wisconsin.
He also expressed hope people would come together to pay for the arena rather than seeing the discussion devolve into an argument about “who lives where” and politics.
“That is divisive and doesn’t get us to where we want to as a community,” Kohl said.
Walker’s spokeswoman says it’s “premature” to discuss the kind of public funding that would be needed for a new arena.
Patrick said it was too early to discuss what funding for the stadium may look like because no plan has been devised. Still, Laurel Patrick said Walker “is willing to look at what is proposed.”
“He is excited about the announcement and the demonstrated commitment to the Bucks and their future,” Patrick said of Walker. “This goes to show that Milwaukee is a major league city.”