Milwaukee Magazine - - Content - BY Zach Brooke

Is the new, $524 mil­lion Down­town arena/ en­ter­tain­ment mecca – slated for a fall 2018 open­ing – poised to be the de­vel­op­ment con­duit for a shinier, hap­pier Mil­wau­kee?

By Zach



MIL­WAU­KEE BUCKS Pres­i­dent Peter Fei­gin moves through the team’s new prac­tice build­ing as though he’s al­ready moved on from it. It’s three days be­fore the grand open­ing of the Froedtert & the Med­i­cal Col­lege of Wis­con­sin Sports Sci­ence Cen­ter, a hy­brid gym, rec cen­ter, ex­ec­u­tive war room and com­mu­nity health clinic, and he steps with de­ter­mi­na­tion through a slick green and gray un­der­ground park­ing tun­nel dubbed the “Bat Cave.” Clos­ing in on the swanky, state-of-the-art play­ers’ lounge, he notes only im­per­fec­tions: oc­ca­sional bare corners and stair­wells want­ing for dé­cor. Then, as he peers from the floor-to-ceil­ing win­dows that face the mas­sive steel struc­ture go­ing up across North Sixth Street, his true thoughts come into fo­cus.

“You want pedes­tri­ans to see clean, great, invit­ing views,” he says. “If they’re look­ing into the arena, you want them to see open con­courses and breeze­ways. You want to see a thought­ful vi­sion from all an­gles.”

He speaks lit­er­ally about the new arena’s fa­cade, but he may as well be ref­er­enc­ing the po­lit­i­cal op­tics. The Bucks’ big build is a bil­lion dol­lar hub of in­vest­ment that moves only with the sup­port spokes con­trib­uted by a sturdy rim of stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing state tax­pay­ers. The cen­ter­piece is the arena it­self and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing park­ing garage, a $524 mil­lion project. Up­front public fi­nanc­ing ac­counts for 48 per­cent of the total, a mat­ter that was set­tled only af­ter years of de­bate dis­solved into brinkman­ship. Flank­ing the struc­tures is an­other half a bil­lion in in­vest­ment in the form of two full blocks of TBD de­vel­op­ment slated to in­clude apart­ments, re­tail, of­fices and en­ter­tain­ment venues.

At the cen­ter of it all is Fei­gin. Act­ing as the public face of the fran­chise for bil­lion­aire own­ers Wes Edens and Marc Lasry, his fin­ger­prints are all over the project, just as his palm prints can be seen on the backs of lo­cal pols and busi­ness lead­ers. The New York im­port has a warm smile that adroitly fails to tele­graph what’s re­ally go­ing on be­hind his dark eyes. He’s a cheer­leader of all things Bucks since he joined the fran­chise three years ago this month.

“Peter is a vi­sion­ary. When you come to work you want to run through the wall for him,” says Raj Saha, gen­eral man­ager for the still-un­named arena, who first met Fei­gin 20 years ago when both worked at Madi­son Square Gar­den. “There are a lot of things I’ve done in my ca­reer, in­clud­ing an Olympics and a World Cup. Peter is prob­a­bly the only team pres­i­dent that I would have con­sid­ered jump­ing back into the venue game with.”

Now, as the ini­tial arena project de­signs gel, there’s still a tremen­dous amount of ef­fort needed to re­al­ize Fei­gin’s holis­tic vi­sion for the de­vel­op­ment by the time ev­ery­thing opens in the fall of 2018. Which is what, ex­actly? “That this is the 30-acre cap­i­tal and des­ti­na­tion for all sports en­ter­tain­ment in the coun­try,” Fei­gin says.

THE EARTH IT­SELF was not ready for the new Bucks arena. To sup­port the weight of the mas­sive struc­ture, 10-ton weights were hoisted 50 feet in the air by crane then re­leased to hur­tle to­ward the sup­ple ground. This was re­peated every five feet, form­ing de­pres­sions through­out the site. The dense cav­i­ties were topped off and smoothed over with gravel. Only then could con­struc­tion be­gin in earnest.

The ground­break­ing cer­e­mony took place on June 18, 2016. Four­teen months later the last of the gi­ant trusses needed to hold the ceil­ing in place were hoisted into po­si­tion, paving the way for the com­plete en­clo­sure of the struc­ture and the ap­pli­ca­tion of its zinc skin in a wrap-around in­verted swoosh pat­tern. The fi­nal 11 months of con­struc­tion would fo­cus on flour­ishes: a coli­seum’s worth of per­sonal touches. To hear Fei­gin tell it, the goal is to build a venue so thrilling in and of it­self that it will sate the masses re­gard­less of the Bucks’ on-the-court per­for­mance any given night. Not that win­ning is be­side the point.

Two blocks long and one block wide, the arena will be more than 700,000 square feet. Its north-to-south ori­en­ta­tion runs be­tween West Juneau and West High­land av­enues, and from North Fourth to North Sixth streets east to west. Be­hind its main en­trance on the east side is a hun­dred-foot brick and beige atrium bor­dered on three sides by the con­course and one side by glass.

The com­pleted arena will seat around 17,500, mak­ing it the sec­ond small­est fa­cil­ity in the NBA ahead of only the Smoothie King Cen­ter in New Or­leans, and ap­prox­i­mately 2,000 seats smaller than the Bucks’ cur­rent home in the BMO Har­ris Bradley Cen­ter. Un­like in the Bradley, how­ever, the bulk of the seats make up the lower bowl ad­ja­cent to the court.

Big spenders who shell out for the first four rows will en­ter the build­ing through a spe­cial VIP sec­tion and have ac­cess to a club that con­nects to the player’s tun­nel. Ac­tion on the court is es­ti­mated to be view­able from 75 per­cent of the main con­course, a fig­ure closer to mod­ern base­ball sta­di­ums than bas­ket­ball fa­cil­i­ties. Fid­gety Bucks fans can keep abreast of the ac­tion as they flow be­tween as­signed seat­ing and an­chored bars. Above the nose­bleed seats in the north­east corner, a deck called the Panorama Club stretches to­ward the strato­sphere. One side of the club of­fers vis­i­tors a soaring over­view of the court or con­cert stage, while the op­po­site edge of the space looks down at the en­ter­tain­ment plaza be­ing built in tan­dem with the arena. The space is the far­thest view­ers can stray from the court in­side the arena. It will be open to all fans dur­ing the game, though its ca­pac­ity is ap­prox­i­mately 500. Dur­ing the off­sea­son, the Bucks fore­see the club be­ing rented for wed­dings and of­fice par­ties.

The fa­cil­ity will be among the most ac­com­mo­dat­ing in the NBA, pro­vid­ing seven sen­sory rooms to any­one who needs a time­out – think autism, PTSD, ADHD, breast­feed­ing moth­ers or even surly chil­dren. There they can ad­just light set­tings, re­lax in lounge chairs and use free data to lis­ten to sooth­ing mu­sic, or even rub tex­tured walls.

Forty orig­i­nal works of art will dress up the spa­ces not claimed by spon­sor­ships, build­ing on the legacy of rich artis­tic her­itage that be­gan with Robert In­di­ana’s pop

art home court at the MECCA in the 1970s. There are some op­por­tu­ni­ties for sculp­tures and mu­rals along the con­courses and atrium. A mas­sive 1,120-square-foot mu­ral on the ex­te­rior of the build­ing will re­flect the spir­i­tual essence of the fran­chise to the city at-large. A call for sub­mis­sions by Wis­con­sin artists was put out at the be­gin­ning of Au­gust. The or­ga­ni­za­tion re­ceived more than 400 sub­mis­sions the first week and by late Au­gust had nearly 1,000.

“[Fei­gin] has a vi­sion,” says Tra­cie Speca-Ven­tura, founder of Cal­i­for­nia-based cu­ra­tor Sports & the Arts, which is re­view­ing com­mis­sions for the project, hav­ing just fin­ished ren­o­va­tion of the suite level at Lam­beau Field. “He keeps say­ing he wants the best of the best. And with the con­tem­po­rary ar­chi­tec­ture, the art is go­ing to be the icing on the cake.”

Most tick­ets will cost $6 more than they do at the Bradley Cen­ter, and $18 more on av­er­age for lower bowl seat­ing. How­ever, half of the tick­ets sold dur­ing the team’s 41 reg­u­lar sea­son home games will be priced un­der $50, Fei­gin says, mak­ing ac­cess a bit more egal­i­tar­ian. The 34 lux­ury suites go from $225,000 to $300,000 an­nu­ally.

THE EN­TER­TAIN­MENT PLAZA ad­ja­cent to the arena is part of a larger 30-acre site that will trans­form the north­west side of down­town, a patch­work of low-level lots and bare fields. Pre­vi­ously left for dead af­ter a bid to house Kohl’s cor­po­rate head­quar­ters there dis­solved, the ne­glected neigh­bor­hood is poised to be­come one of Mil­wau­kee’s most vi­brant ar­eas.

Cre­at­ing aux­il­iary peo­ple mag­nets to draw in near-ca­pac­ity crowds on a reg­u­lar ba­sis is a high pri­or­ity. Put sim­ply, more peo­ple need to live, work and con­gre­gate in the com­plex in or­der for it to grow dense enough for the Bucks and their part­ners to pros­per. That re­quires a wholesale de­vel­op­ment of the sur­round­ing corridor, stretch­ing from Old World Third Street to MATC’s cen­tral cam­pus.

“There aren’t too many Top 50 cities in the coun­try where you can ac­tu­ally de­velop 30 acres of con­tigu­ous land,” Fei­gin says. “We got this gift and this op­por­tu­nity to reimag­ine down­town Mil­wau­kee, which doesn’t hap­pen ever. From the west side of the Mil­wau­kee River, we have this abil­ity to re­ally build a neigh­bor­hood.”

Look­ing north from mid­court, the Sports Sci­ence Cen­ter stands at 10 o’clock. A new Froedtert health clinic, sched­uled to open next month, is housed in the same build­ing. Cross­ing North Sixth Street at 11 o’clock is the park­ing struc­ture, con­nected by sky­way to the arena proper. Twelve to two o’clock en­com­passes a swatch of land ear­marked for a mix of com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial build­ings. Plans for Park 7 Lofts, a three-sided, six-story 107-unit mar­ket-rate apart­ment build­ing bor­der­ing the park­ing struc­ture, are al­ready green­lit by the city plan com­mis­sion. Fei­gin says the total num­ber of liv­ing units in the com­plex could reach four fig­ures, and his dream part­ner for the space re­mains a large cor­po­rate head­quar­ters em­ploy­ing 1,200 to 1,800 work­ers next door to the arena.

At three o’clock is Live Block, the name for the Bucks’ en­ter­tain­ment area. It’s an out­door mall sand­wiched be­tween the arena and The Moderne and North Old World Third Street shops and tav­erns. The strip of North Fourth Street en­veloped by the mall will be­come a pedes­trian walk­way per­ma­nently closed off to ve­hi­cles. Bucks’ ex­ecs en­vi­sion a rau­cous and vi­brant public party area com­plete with an in­ter­ac­tive cen­tral art in­stal­la­tion. On event nights, rev­el­ers will be able to gaze into the arena through its enor­mous glass face. The rest of the time Live Block will play host to a farmer’s mar­ket, 5K kick­offs, small scale concerts and 3-on-3 bas­ket­ball tour­na­ments.

As fast as the Bucks are mov­ing on se­cur­ing cor­po­rate part­ner­ships, many deals re­main un-fi­nal­ized at this point, in­clud­ing nam­ing rights for the arena it­self. To close, the Bucks must sell the spon­sor­ships to skep­ti­cal busi­ness part­ners ea­ger to vi­su­al­ize a re­turn on in­vest­ment. Fei­gin says the team has nar­rowed po­ten­tial can­di­dates for arena nam­ing rights down to a few fi­nal­ists. All but five of the suite pack­ages were sold by mid-Au­gust, and this fall, the Bucks will be­come one of the teams sport­ing cor­po­rate lo­gos on player uni­forms. Har­leyDavid­son will ride with the Bucks for the next three sea­sons.

The Bucks’ full-court mar­ket­ing press might strike some as dis­taste­ful, but a short glance at his­tory shows that in­dif­fer­ence to busi­ness con­sid­er­a­tions may have been a key rea­son a new arena was needed in the first place.

THIRTY-TWO YEARS ago, a Mil­wau­kee power cou­ple gave the city one hell of a gift. Phi­lan­thropist Jane Bradley Pet­tit, daugh­ter of Allen-Bradley co-founder Harry




Lynde Bradley, and her sports­caster hus­band, Lloyd Pet­tit, promised to fund vir­tu­ally the en­tire cost of a new sports en­ter­tain­ment com­plex. The Bucks, freshly ac­quired by Herb Kohl, had out­grown their then-cur­rent digs at the 11,000-seat MECCA (now UW–Mil­wau­kee Pan­ther Arena) and wel­comed the op­por­tu­nity to move in.

It proved to be more of a room­mate sit­u­a­tion than a true home. The Bradley Cen­ter’s in­au­gu­ral game was a Na­tional Hockey League ex­hi­bi­tion be­tween the Ed­mon­ton Oil­ers and the Chicago Black­hawks – an over­ture to the NHL that this was an arena with a va­cancy. The en­su­ing years re­vealed that seat­ing lay­out, square footage, sig­nage, con­ces­sions and suite in­come dis­per­sal and a lack of crowd-pleas­ing ameni­ties were all out of step with emerg­ing NBA stan­dards.

The Bucks’ team brass be­gan to stump for pub­licly funded up­grades to the Bradley Cen­ter barely a decade af­ter its com­ple­tion. When as­sis­tance failed to ma­te­ri­al­ize by 2004, then-owner Herb Kohl said to for­get it. The Bucks’ arena was near­ing the end of its use­ful life­span as an NBA venue and no amount of ren­o­va­tion could change that.

The point was re-em­pha­sized with greater ur­gency in 2013 by in­com­ing NBA Com­mis­sioner Adam Sil­ver, who de­clared the Bradley Cen­ter un­fit for an NBA team. Mil­wau­kee was on no­tice: the Bucks needed a new arena to re­main in the city.

Kohl sold the team to the new own­er­ship group a year later, and in a fi­nal act of stew­ard­ship, pledged $100 mil­lion to the build­ing of a new fa­cil­ity. This amount was first matched by the new own­ers, and then sur­passed by $50 mil­lion, for a col­lec­tive in­vest­ment of $250 mil­lion.

But total cost es­ti­mates for the new arena reached half a bil­lion dol­lars. The NBA made it clear it ex­pected public funds to cover the re­main­der of the arena’s cost. Fei­gin ap­peared be­fore the Wis­con­sin Leg­is­la­ture’s Joint Fi­nance Com­mit­tee to warn of the league’s in­ten­tions to pur­chase the Bucks from its new own­ers and re­lo­cate to Las Ve­gas or Seattle with­out sig­nif­i­cant progress by the start of the 2017-18 Bucks’ sea­son. Their hands forced, most leg­is­la­tors lined up with keep­ing the Bucks, and a bill to com­mit $250 mil­lion in public money for the arena and park­ing struc­ture was signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker the fol­low­ing month. Nearly one-fifth of that amount is com­ing from the City of Mil­wau­kee, with the rest spread be­tween the county and state gov­ern­ments. The state will own the arena, with the Bucks signed on as op­er­a­tors and ten­ants for the next 30 years. The team is also re­spon­si­ble for gen­eral main­te­nance, as well as any cost over­runs dur­ing con­struc­tion. Govern­ment fi­nanc­ing is spread out across 20 years, at which time Wis­con­sin tax­pay­ers will have con­trib­uted more than $400 mil­lion total to the project, in­clud­ing in­ter­est.

That fig­ure makes the agree­ment less palat­able to state Sen. Tim Car­pen­ter, a Demo­crat who was one of 10 se­na­tors to vote against the 2015 fi­nanc­ing pack­age, and the only “no” vote within the greater Mil­wau­kee area. Two years later, he says he hasn’t changed his mind.

“There are a cou­ple parts of the fund­ing that when peo­ple read about it, they’re go­ing to say it stinks to high heaven,” he says. One item he sin­gled out is the ex­ten­sion of a tax orig­i­nally en­acted to pay for up­grades to the Wis­con­sin Cen­ter that was sched­uled to be sun­set­ted in a few years. An­other is an in­di­rect sub­sidy that came about when the county sold its Park East plot, con­ser­va­tively val­ued at $7.5 mil­lion, to the team for one dol­lar.

The sum of these ne­go­ti­a­tions is an over­all bot­tom line that is less tax­payer-friendly than the ini­tial $250 mil­lion, par­tic­u­larly for Mil­wau­keeans. “If you’re a res­i­dent of the city of Mil­wau­kee, you are triple taxed, be­cause you’re pay­ing for the City of Mil­wau­kee’s part, you’re pay­ing for the county’s part and you’re pay­ing for the state’s part,” Car­pen­ter says.

TWO YEARS LATER, as he ap­praises sight­lines of the half-fin­ished arena from the wide win­dows of the Sports Sci­ence Cen­ter, Fei­gin’s lo­cal legacy seems in­tact. He’s the mayor of Buck­stown; the cham­pion of the largest con­struc­tion project in an as­pi­ra­tional city in the mid­dle of a boom. Oh, and the team he heads looks pretty good, too.

“Peo­ple are over­whelm­ingly ex­cited about this, which, I’ve got to be hon­est, was sur­pris­ing, be­cause be­fore any­thing came up it was like ‘Will they ever get any­thing built?,’” Fei­gin says.

He’s be­come a booster of Mil­wau­kee, play­ing up the psy­cho­log­i­cal ef­fects of de­vel­op­ing a world-class arena. An oftre­peated talk­ing point is that the new train­ing cen­ter is lo­cated at the foot of the of­framp ex­it­ing I-43 and en­ter­ing down­town via West Fond Du Lac Av­enue. Once giv­ing ap­proach­ing mo­torists an empty, unin­spir­ing view that made the city seem small and re­mote, it now presents them with the fear­some Bucks logo dwarfed by the tow­er­ing new arena.

“What that does for peo­ple and their sense of pride and their value of the city is as­tro­nom­i­cal,” Fei­gin says.

A rare mo­ment where the kum­baya broke came from Feigen’s com­ments in Septem­ber 2016 re­gard­ing Mil­wau­kee’s long-fes­ter­ing racial seg­re­ga­tion in a speech be­fore the Ro­tary Club of Madi­son.

“Very bluntly, Mil­wau­kee is the most seg­re­gated, racist place I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced in my life,” he told the Ro­tar­i­ans. He’s been on the de­fen­sive ever since, but now fo­cuses less on harsh de­scrip­tors and more on how the arena and sur­round­ing de­vel­op­ment can act as a force for in­te­gra­tion.

“I think we’ve got a big ad­van­tage for NBA bas­ket­ball, which by def­i­ni­tion is a melt­ing pot. We’re able to design an en­tire cam­pus that is ex­tremely open and wel­com­ing and it’s cer­tainly our ob­jec­tive to ac­cel­er­ate the build­ing of a vi­brant, di­verse down­town,” he says.

As­sum­ing Fei­gin is as good as his word, the Bucks arena may be­come the public works project that fi­nally moves the nee­dle of the city’s seg­re­ga­tion prob­lem. Like any die-hard fan at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son, Mil­wau­kee warms it­self with that hope.

Peter Fei­gin

The Bucks arena’s roof draws closer

to com­ple­tion.

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