Milwaukee getting a sports arena headache

In the big scheme of things, 25 years is a ridiculously short period of time. Unless you’re a sports arena or stadium.

Over in Milwaukee, the hands are being rung over what to do with the Bradley Center, which turns 25 this year. It was built without public money.

Supporters of a new arena — it’s where the NBA team in town plays — are already cutting in line for scarce money, and already basing their positions on the Milwaukee Bucks moving when their lease is up in 2017.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel considers the situation today, the day Marquette University Law School and the paper is hosting a conference, “A New Milwaukee Sports Arena? Divining the Benefits and Dividing the Costs.”

Other than the Vikings stadium, this would be one of the first projects in the “no new taxes” era, and certainly the first for Wisconsin in that time. The economy is in bad shape in the state, and education has taken a big hit in recent years.

Diverting existing taxes, like Minneapolis is doing with the Convention Center, might not be a solution.

The 0.1% Miller Park sales tax, collected in metro Milwaukee counties, still has $213 million in debt to pay on that sports stadium. By the time it’s paid off, some experts have said, it’ll be time to plow more money into its upkeep and refurbishment.

A sales tax on hotel rooms and other tourist-related services funded the construction of a convention center, and those bonds won’t be paid until 2032.

Those are two taxes that most citizens don’t seem to mind because they mostly fall on someone else.

But some politicians are now touting the so-called Oklahoma City plan. There, according to a weekend story in the JS, the city was losing corporate headquarters and was dying. Residents kept voting tax increases to fund projects to attract jobs, and they would fail, one after another.

In the ’90s, when unemployment was pushing 9 percent in the city, he pushed a general tax increase for a revitalization program, including a sports facility, and the residents approved it. Eventually, the city lured the Seattle Supersonics away to become the Oklahoma City Thunder (Seattle had capped the amount of public spending on sports facilities). The unemployment rate in Oklahoma City right now is 4.2 percent.

Could that work in a tax-averse state like Wisconsin?

Apparently, it depends on the marketing.

“My message around the country is this,” Rick Horrow, the pitch man for the project told the paper. “Major-league franchises are like any coveted industry. They should not be taken for granted, they should not be taken lightly and are incredibly important for the image, quality of life and long-term development of a region.”

But on Friday, the Legislative Reference Bureau in Wisconsin , released a report contending Oklahoma City inflated the amount of private economic development the arena sparked. It said most revenue by sports teams, is spent elsewhere.

Instead, it concluded, public spending for sports teams can be based on “civic pride,” but noted it’s an impossible figure to measure.