« WSAU Opinion Blog

OPINION - The price of their support

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) I'm in favor of building a new high school, but only if my neighborhood elementary school is remodeled. Fair is fair. We shouldnt have some teenagers going to a brand new school while younger students go to a run-down building.

I like the new streetlights and sidewalks on the east side. But I'll vote against the next project if the west side doesn't get fixed up.

We need to hire two more police officers.... but only if we hire two more drug counselors. Helping addicts is more important than arresting them.

My alma mater wants to build a new sports stadium. I'm opposed unless they build a new campus art gallery too.

You get the idea if everything is conditional, if there's a deal or an add-on to get anything done, it's less likely that anything will be done. And what does get done will be much less because of people who need to be paid off to not make waves.

This is what's happening in Milwaukee, where a group of community activists is offering support for a new downtown arena for the Bucks basketball team, if...

Milwaukee Common Ground announced yesterday that the price for their support is $250-million. They want the money to be spent on improvements to city parks, schools, green space, and youth programs. (The group argues that their offer is a bargain. The cost of the new arena is at least $400-million. They're asking for a little more than half-that for the inner-city youth of Milwaukee.)

There are two obvious problems with this approach. First, Milwaukee is having trouble raising money for just the cost of the arena alone. Coming up with another $250-million probably puts the project out of reach. Secondly, the amount for community parks is astronomically high. Suppose 10 neighborhood parks near downtown Milwaukee were each endowed with a half-million dollars for maintenance, improvements and youth programs. I'm certain that those would become the best parks in the city. And the price-tag is $5-million --- not $250-million. Then suppose the five most run-down schools near downtown each got $5-million facelifts. No, the schools would not be rebuilt brick-by-brick, but the improvements would be substantial; new libraries, up-to-date technology, new classrooms, etc. Even under this pie-in-the-sky scenario we'd only spend about 10-percent of what the community activists are asking for.

The better option is for the Bucks to build their own arena with their own money, instead of expecting the taxpayers to build the venue that their private, for-profit business operates in. And community activists might still have their hands out if the city offers infrastructure improvements around the site.

As I've said in an earlier blog, theres nothing wrong with the Bradley Center except it doesn't have as many luxury boxes and premium seating areas as other NBA venues. Since those are the profit centers for the team, the Bucks should pay for what they want. (Indeed, the Bucks would probably be delighted with a new arena with fewer seats, but more corporate suites.)

But my opposition to a taxpayer-funded arena doesnt keep me from seeing Milwaukee Common Ground for what they are. Obstructionists is too kind. They are hostage-takers. $250-million is their ransom.

Chris Conley


Image:Bradley Center before a Milwaukee Bucks game, February 25, 2005via WikiCommons.com