Feigin wants to attract corporate headquarters near new Bucks arena

Milwaukee Bucks President Peter Feigin says he’s been actively engaged in recruitment efforts to lure major corporations to Milwaukee as part of the new Bucks arena’s adjoining “plaza” development.

Feigin also revealed he’s participated in “thousands of hours of meetings” with educators from Milwaukee Public Schools and Milwaukee Area Technical College on collaborating to recruit qualified young people to work at the arena and adjacent development.

Feigin estimated the arena will employ more than 1,000 people, for whom he has vowed to pay “living wages.”

“Our vision is: We need to get a headquarters down here,” said Feigin, who spoke yesterday at a WisPolitics.com luncheon at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa.

“The two blocks that are the eastern (portion) of Park East, which have a few hundred thousand square feet of potential commercial space, if I had a magic wand, I would have a lessee for 30 years in that space that would move 2,000 employees and have their headquarters on it,” said Feigin.

“I think we’ll get it,” he added. “We’ve just started the process and that’s a game-changer.”

Asked if he and the Bucks organization have been recruiting at least one major corporation to come to Milwaukee, Feigin replied, “Absolutely.”

Feigin’s optimism was palpable as he described “creating an engine” in Milwaukee with the potential to transform an underused area just north of the Bradley Center into a vibrant sports venue that would include new retail, dining and residential.

The Bucks are developing roughly 30 acres that will contain not only the $500 million-plus new basketball arena, but also a $20 million office building, 70 apartments and a parking structure, which is being built in conjunction with the city of Milwaukee for an estimated $45 million.

“From the very beginning, our vision was much more than just an arena,” said Feigin, who opined that the BMO Harris Bradley Center, which has been home to the Bucks since 1988, “was built as an island.”

Feigin said he’s been working with MPS and MATC to “create the infrastructure for job training.”

“If you told me three years ago I’d be in thousands of hours of meetings about work development and curriculum — but it really is changing the paradigm,” Feigin said. “How do we get people interested in jobs they might not even know exist? How do we address the unemployed or the under-employed to understand what the opportunities are? And then, there’s this real need in Milwaukee to not just target them, but we probably have to hold their hand through the process and really get them trained, and that’s really a big public-private partnership.”

Feigin later told WisPolitics.com he’ll need to research what a “living wage” is in Milwaukee, but he assumed it would be at least in the $10-to-$11-per-hour range and added the goal is to move toward $15 an hour.

He admitted “an incredibly high turnover” among arena workers, such as ushers, security and food service workers, whom, he said, “traditionally have been pegged at minimum wage.” Feigin called it a “no-brainer” to increase wages.

While making no bones that a winning NBA team will be the “catalyst” for the development project to achieve its greatest potential, Feigin said his organization is focused on making the district vibrant year-round, especially during summer when the Bucks are not playing, and other nearby venues, such as the Summerfest grounds, provide competition for tourist dollars.

Restaurateur Omar Shaikh, who owns a number of Milwaukee-area eateries, praised the Bucks for already sparking commercial interest in the area.

“We’ve already felt the impact of them coming in,” Shaikh said. “That (area) would have been a giant waste. Nothing was happening there for so long. We’re already seeing property being purchased in those areas; we’re seeing the plans for all the development. I think the restaurant community would really have suffered if this had not happened.”

Feigin said he hopes to draw local restaurants and retail shops to the development. He said there would be no sit-down restaurants inside the arena, although concessions will continue to be sold and a Bucks gear shop will be open “365 days a year” on the front mall of the arena.

He said it “makes sense” to have dining establishments in the adjacent plaza “for lunch and dinner on weekdays, not just on event days.”

Feigin did not say if any eateries have shown interest or commitment, but Shaikh said of his firm, SURG Restaurant Group, “We interact quite a bit with their team and we’re very optimistic about the future.”

Feigin’s optimism extends to a future NBA championship for the Bucks.

He said Bucks guard Giannis Antetokounmpo is on the “cusp of superstardom.”

Noting how the Green Bay Packers have deep fan support throughout the entire state and beyond, Feigin hopes an exciting basketball team could bring together Wisconsinites — erasing what he calls the polarization of Milwaukee from the rest of the state — and draw national and international interest as well.

“More than half of the Internet traffic for the NBA comes from Asia,” he said. “What’s our ability to position and put Wisconsin on the map? It’s real, it’s viable.”

Listen to the luncheon:

Listen to a Q&A with Feigin

— By Kay Nolan,
For WisBusiness.com