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NCAA Basketball Tournament further demonstrates the need and value for a new arena in Milwaukee

It’s not often that I write something relatively Wisconsin-centric twice in a day, but after Milwaukee hosted an NCAA Men’s Basketball Region event that attracted thousands of fans to the city, I felt the calling to add one more.

As I chatted on Twitter and in person with a variety of media during the tournament about the city as a host location and the potential of future events of its stature, we agreed that without a new arena, this and other attractions don’t visit Milwaukee again. What does it matter? Between $4 and $5 million in reported revenue to surrounding businesses from last Thursday through Sunday alone. There were cheers and excitement not heard or seen in and around the Bradley Center in years.

The revenue report tells the story: it’s not just the arena that benefits. There are bars, restaurants, hotels and other businesses that earn money when Milwaukee hosts sports and entertainment events. I heard one fan argue that his tax pennies aren’t worth the likely minimum wage that most of those restaurant employees make when the city is flush with people. Yeah, well tell that to those people who might not otherwise work if not for those jobs.

Much of the focus surrounding the need for a new arena to replace the 26-year-old BMO Harris Bradley Center has been the sustenance of the NBA in Milwaukee. While the Bucks are valuable tenants of the current arena and likely to be the primary residents of a new one, the need for a new facility goes far beyond professional basketball. Marquette University basketball, the host organization for this past weekend’s NCAA Tournament, plays men’s basketball there. There are concerts, tractor pulls, circuses and countless other events that attract fans to the venue, and with a new facility, more would visit. Entertainers and sports leagues demand that facilities of our day are multi-function, highly technical entertainment communities. Go to any other city with contemporary venues and you’ll find that arenas are much more than four walls that host ball games. When a city can’t provide those accommodations, teams and acts go elsewhere. Goodbye events, so long hotel and rental car demand and toodles to many of the proprietors that remain downtown. After all, just how many businesses can survive on Halloween, St. Patrick’s Day and New Year’s Eve crowds alone?

While no formal proposal has been set forth by those entrusted to help build support for a new Milwaukee arena, some nearby suburbs and cities have publicly stated that they will not support a new tax, regardless of how much or little, to essentially, help grow Southeastern Wisconsin and its national profile. Yes, a region. The same one that was mentioned with each broadcast introduction to a Milwaukee game and each dateline written by visiting writers and bloggers this past weekend. If there’s no new arena, there’s no need to identify this geographic area to huge multi-media audiences or the desire for people to visit for other reasons besides Summerfest (valuable and attractive, but just two weeks each year).

I’ve written in the past about how many jobs that most of the public does not know about when there’s an event at the Bradley Center. For sports, there are television crews and radio personnel that are employed by both home and visiting teams; arena employees handle dozens of responsibilities. It takes hundreds of people who earn wages that make things run smoothly. No new arena, the NBA likely yanks the franchise from Milwaukee regardless of ownership. Talent for those other jobs will understandably move to other markets for work.

Out of sight, out of mind. Last person out of the city, please turn off the lights. It won’t be me because I want to live in a progressive community that doesn’t remain in the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.


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