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Disposable Arenas

May. 15, 2012
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So, has everyone caught “Let's Tear Down the Bradley Center and Build a New One” fever yet?

Every once in a while, something absurd comes along that reminds us just how far removed some of our so-called leaders are from the real problems of ordinary people.

Right now, area business leaders belonging to the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) have some monumental concerns.

When our state has the worst job creation record in the United States under the leadership of the governor they helped put into office, corporate leaders should be in crisis mode and doing whatever they can to promote economic resurrection.

Very few of us would have guessed their most pressing concern would be spending hundreds of millions of public dollars to build something we already have, just so they'll have nicer seats in which to watch basketball.

Let's see. Is there anything more important than a new basketball arena that the business community should be putting its enormous political clout behind?

How about lobbying their governor on behalf of the Talgo train manufacturing company, the first major new industry in decades to create jobs on Milwaukee's economically depressed North Side.

Anyone who wonders how Gov. Scott Walker went so wrong in actually driving jobs out of Wisconsin only has to look at Walker's irrational hostility toward job creation by Talgo.

First, Walker tried to strangle Talgo in its infancy by turning down $810 million in federal funds to build high-speed rail benefiting businesses from Milwaukee to Madison and eventually throughout northern Wisconsin.

Then, unbelievably, Walker's legislative Republicans refused to honor the state's contract with Talgo and junked two brand-new Talgo trains for which they'd already paid $71.8 million.

Walker will now mothball the new trains that would have upgraded service for businesses between Chicago and Milwaukee. Corporate leaders elsewhere fight for modern transportation because they know it increases profits and creates jobs.

Job Creation Takes Back Seat

In Milwaukee, MMAC members are more worried about upgrading their seats at Bucks games, which are already pretty nice.

The best thing about all those high-priced corporate seats at Bucks games is they didn't cost struggling Milwaukee taxpayers a dime.

The Bradley Center was a gift to Milwaukee from the late Jane and Lloyd Pettit as a lasting memorial to Jane's father. That was only 24 years ago, and the thing's still shiny.

So much for lasting memorials. If you read Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sports pages, where the only other known cheerleaders for scrapping the Bradley Center reside, you would think the place was one of those creepy, falling-down mansions out of Dark Shadows, with bats flying around the scoreboard.

Journal Communications is actually one of the few Milwaukee corporations with real business reasons to rise above journalistic ethics and blatantly lobby to spend hundreds of millions in public dollars to benefit a professional sports franchise privately owned by a millionaire.

The Milwaukee Bucks provide advertising, broadcast and circulation revenues to Journal businesses. So do the Milwaukee Brewers.

That's why Journal executives abandoned all pretense of objectivity and legally registered as lobbyists in Madison to press the Legislature to spend $400 million to build Miller Park.

Uh-oh. Miller Park is already 11 years old. We'd better get Son of Bradley Center built quick. In just a few more years, it will be time for taxpayers to tear down aging Miller Park and replace it with a more profitable venue.

To understand how far out of touch the MMAC and the Journal Sentinel are in trying to whip up public support for a new arena in these troubled economic times, consider the only real purpose of a new arena.

It's not to add any more seats. The Bradley Center has a capacity of around 18,700 for Bucks games. It rarely comes anywhere close to selling out because team personnel turns over every few years, creating occasional flurries of excitement but never rising all that far above mediocrity.

That is an objective assessment of a fan. I probably attend more Bucks and Brewers games than do any of those shamelessly entitled corporate fat cats who expect taxpayers to upgrade their luxury box cocktail parties every decade or so.

So if a new arena wouldn't add any more seats, how would it create more revenue? Simple. A new arena would have more expensive seats.

The only people attending Bucks games who want more expensive seats are those who aren't paying for their seats. Their companies or their law firms are paying and getting a very nice business tax write-off.

We really should give a shout-out to retiring Sen. Herb Kohl, who has promised to put some of his own millions toward a new arena. That is simply unheard of among millionaire owners of sports franchises.

Members of the MMAC, including Journal Sentinel executives, are perfectly free to provide the rest. 


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