Reject taxpayer subsidies for Bucks ‘entertainment’ mall

Virginia Small, Special to Wig

The law that provides state funding for the Milwaukee Bucks arena also gives the team owners the right to build arena “public plazas,” which would be used to generate revenue exclusively for the team.

The city proposes spending $20 million to create these misnomered “public spaces” to enrich the Bucks, not to serve public interests. They would help expand a Bucks-controlled entertainment monopoly, as mandated by the NBA.

According to State Bill 209, Section 229.46, “The professional basketball team or its affiliate shall be entitled to receive all revenues related to the operation or use of the sports and entertainment arena facilities, including, but not limited to, ticket revenues, licensing or user fees, sponsorship revenues, revenues generated from events that are held on the plaza that is part of the sports and entertainment arena facilities, revenues from the sale of food, beverages, merchandise, and parking, and revenues from naming rights.”

Among the alarming implications of this clause is that no festival or market could be held on these plazas by any vendors except the Bucks or their affiliates. “Free” concerts and other events would be hosted solely to increase revenue streams for the Bucks.

The now-public spaces to be co-opted are Fourth Street between Highland and Juneau and the city-owned Fourth Street garage. The city would hand over the well-kept garage to the Bucks, pay to raze it and forgo nearly $1 million a year in parking revenue. Then the city would pay $35 million to build a new garage and split the income with the Bucks. (At first, the Bucks demanded all income.)

This proposal really creates a third tier in our beleaguered park system. In addition to different calibers of parks for haves and have-nots, we are starting to have privately controlled public spaces. Who in fact owns and controls these pseudo-public parks? 

The state, county and city are already giving 30 now-public acres to the hedge-fund moguls who own the Bucks. Thus far, no government entity has mandated the creation of anything to benefit taxpayers in return — nor has public input been sought. 

“BucksTown Plaza” will have nothing in common with Chicago’s Millennium Park, where people are free to carry in food and drinks and enjoy a wide range of free programming for all ages, 365 days a year. Brave New World Fourth Street will serve other gods.

The Common Council can hold the line on how many more public assets taxpayers will hand over to the Bucks. Instead of these extravagant giveaways, alderpersons can reject this proposal and push to start over and renegotiate a better deal. They can support only the arena and not the pseudo-public spaces, which will house strip-mall chain restaurants. That will only help to destroy downtown Milwaukee’s unique charm and compete unfairly with nearby local businesses.

Call to action

You can help prevent this from happening by lobbying officials before the final vote is taken, possibly as soon as Sept. 22.

Contact your alderpersons at 414-286-2221. You also can call Mayor Tom Barrett’s office at 414-286-2200 or email

In addition, you can attend the public hearings in Room 301-B of City Hall, 200 E. Wells St. Citizens will be allowed to speak briefly. The schedule is:

4 p.m. Aug. 31: The comptroller’s report on subsidy costs and other information will be presented.

9 a.m. Sept. 15: The Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee will consider the proposal.

9 a.m. Sept 16: The Finance and Personnel Committee meets.

What to tell city officials:

1. Do not tear down the city-owned Fourth Street garage and forego nearly $1 million a year in revenue by giving the site to Bucks’ owners for their privately owned “entertainment” mall. If we don’t tear down the garage, we won’t need to build a replacement two blocks away at a cost of $35 million.

2. Do not accept the 50-50 split in revenue from the proposed new garage after paying 100 percent of its building costs.

3. Do not give the Bucks public assistance to over-saturate the local tavern market. The Bucks mall would siphon business from about 60 restaurants and bars near the arena, especially on Old World Third and Water streets.

4. Do not hand over for free the 1-acre Sydney Hih lot, appraised for $1 million, to Bucks owners to do with as they please. Instead, sell it for full market price to a developer with an immediate, viable plan.

5. Reject this mall plan and so-called public plazas designed to exclusively generate revenue for Bucks owners. Designate that city subsidies support only arena construction.

— Virginia Small