We shouldn’t have to pay for new Bucks stadium

Andrew Goldstein

Even though the Milwaukee Bucks are trailing 3-2 in the first round of the NBA playoffs, optimism about Milwaukee basketball is at a high level. Jabari Parker has the potential to be an All-Star if he recovers from his ACL tear, Giannis Antetokounmpo does things with a basketball that human beings should not be able to do, and the team has a young core that could turn into one of the NBA’s best teams in a few years. After a long stretch of mediocrity, the Bucks have us all feeling good again.

That feeling won’t last long if the new Milwaukee Bucks arena is publicly funded.

The Bucks released renderings for a brand new stadium earlier this month and hope to move into their new digs in time for the 2017-18 season. However, before that can happen, Marc Lasry and Wes Edens, the Bucks’ relatively new owners, need to figure out how to pay for the thing.

The new stadium would cost around $500 million according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which is where the problem lies. Herb Kohl, the Bucks’ former owner, has pledged $100 million to the stadium’s construction, and the new owners have pledged $150 million. That still leaves the taxpayers of Wisconsin on the hook for $250 million in stadium money and goodness knows how much for surrounding neighborhood development.

According to Fox 6, Lasry and Edens are looking for at least a $150 million contribution from the state, which means people in places like Eau Claire, Green Bay, and Janesville will end up paying for a stadium that offers no economic benefit to them whatsoever.

Lasry and Edens are also looking for at least $50 million from the city of Milwaukee and the surrounding counties. Alderman Bob Bauman has already suggested creating a one percent sales tax to help fund this boondoggle, and if you’re a Milwaukee resident, this may sound a bit familiar. That’s because the Wisconsin legislature enacted a sales tax in 1995 to help pay for Miller Park’s construction, and that tax isn’t projected to go away until 2020. Citizens may be stuck paying yet another tax to fund another stadium for 20 more years, at which point it will probably be time to pay the tax again for the next new stadium.

Nearly 30 percent of Milwaukee lives on or below the poverty line, according to the Milwaukee Rescue Mission. Milwaukee Public Schools have a graduation rate of only 62.8 percent. The unemployment rate in Milwaukee is 7.2 percent, which is almost two percentage points higher than the national unemployment rate. There are too many real problems facing Milwaukee to waste taxpayer’s money paying for the venue of a private, for-profit corporation whose value mostly lies in entertainment.

Marc Lasry and Wes Edens both run hedge funds in New York City. Lasry is worth $1.7 billion and Edens is worth more than $1.2 billion. They could pay for the arena by themselves and still have a combined net worth higher than the GDP of 70 countries. Besides, the NBA’s TV contract is about to increase from $930 million per year to $2.66 billion per year. Add to that figure things like gate revenues, merchandise sales, naming rights, and the profits that will come from the NBA’s increasing global reach, and it’s almost a guarantee that Lasry and Edens will recoup their money plus a whole lot more. Milwaukee isn’t asking them to be Mother Theresa; its asking them to pay for their own investment.

In a larger sense, this struggle isn’t just about the Bucks’ new stadium. It’s about how billionaire owners have conned America’s taxpayers into paying for their opulent sports palaces for so long that we’ve just accepted it as a fact of life. This shouldn’t happen. While stadiums do provide some economic benefits to their surrounding areas, most of the profits go directly to the team and the NBA. Why should the rest of Wisconsin have to pay for it?