Bucks: Team president throws down relocation gauntlet to legislators


Faced with a deadline from the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks appealed to members of the state legislature’s Joint Finance Committee Monday to quickly approve $250 million in public funding for a proposed new arena in downtown Milwaukee.

Team president Peter Feigin told legislators that time was of the essence, lest the NBA buy back the franchise to move it to another city.

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Feigin, according to Milwaukee Business Journal, reminded the committee that the purchase agreement signed by owners Wes Edens, Marc Lasry and Jamie Dinan in May 2014 included a provision that construction of a new building had to begin in 2015.

This provision was not kept secret; the new owners were open about the situation from the time Edens and Lasry made their pledges to put up their own funds for the new facility.

He said if that doesn’t happen, the NBA will buy back the team for $575 million—a $25 million profit for Edens, Lasry and Dinan—and move the Bucks to “Las Vegas or Seattle.

“The window is closing,” Feigin said. “We can’t wait months, even weeks to start the public process.”

It’s disappointing that Feigin would throw this out there, even if he is putting the onus on the NBA as the bad guys who would pirate the team out of Milwaukee for destinations unknown.

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The new owners have, in 14 months, built a tremendous amount of good will, with a new logo, new colors, new uniforms and, it would seem, a new emphasis on winning after decades of mediocrity under the previous ownership of former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl.

The state Senate could take up the bill to finance the project as soon as Tuesday after the proposal was dropped from the state budget bill last week.

Feigin says construction has to begin by this fall to avoid the NBA initiating the search for buyers. The team’s lease at the BMO Harris Bradley Center runs through 2017.

“The NBA does not want the Bucks to extend the lease in an inadequate facility,” Feigin said.

State Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, has been a vocal critic of the deal, which calls for the state to contribute $55 million, Milwaukee County $55 million, the city of Milwaukee $47 million and the Wisconsin Center District $93 million.

Taylor claims the deal is “screwing over the Wisconsin Center District.” The Legislative Fiscal Bureau said the district would not begin to repay the $93 million in bonds to be issued for roughly 13 years.

“Who has a loan for 13 years and you don’t pay anything, but you let the interest run? Who does that? You wouldn’t let your kids do it,” Taylor said. “And you sure as heck wouldn’t do that to your constituents.”

The issue of public funding for professional sports stadiums is a sticky one and has been for decades. As the money being thrown around in the pro sports business has exploded, there is more and more demand for newer, flashier stadiums with more amenities and—of course—luxury boxes that can be leased at exorbitant prices to the rich and famous.

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  • But while a few franchises—baseball’s San Francisco Giants come to mind—paid the freight for their own buildings, many owners still try to get the taxpayers to pick up a large share of the tab.

    At a roughly 50-50 split, the proposed arena deal in Milwaukee is actually on the lower end of the scale for the public share of new stadiums, which has run at about 65 percent public money in the last couple of decades, according to data shared by San Diego Chargers spokesman Mark Fabiani during a radio interview four years ago.

    That figure was also cited by Gov. Scott Walker earlier this year when announcing the proposed deal for a downtown Milwaukee arena.

    The urgency Feigin pressed legislators about is real. But it never looks good for representatives of billionaire sports franchise owners to attempt to strong-arm legislators with threats of relocation, whether those threats are coming from ownership itself or, in this case, being laid at the feet of the NBA.

    For a management group that has done just about everything right since taking over last year, Feigin’s ham-handed testimony before the committee on Monday may undo a lot of that.

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