Free the Deer

It’s not exactly news that I don’t care for any public involvement in the proposed arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. So as it goes to a full legislature – outside the Wisconsin budget as initially considered – I thought I’d take one more opportunity to explain why.

1) Good development is organic. Good development takes place because the market supports the business wishing to build. Good development is sustainable through transitions.

Bad development is what happens when lawmakers cave to people who fund their campaigns.

We have a great example here in Brookfield. More than ten years ago the Common Council caved to a Armini-suited developer because he threatened to sue. The project has been bankrupt for years. Today word came that the City of Brookfield is planning to break their own law and subdivide a Planned Development District lot – you guessed it! – because a developer has promised something. Had the city backed away from Mr. Shiny Pants and his grandiose plans, the corner in question wouldn’t be a train wreck for city planning.

A huge arena with struggling businesses born out of false promises will be a burden to Milwaukee in the next 20 years. Oh, and you know about then a new greater-most-wonderful arena will be proposed as this one will be labeled obsolete by the next hostage takers.

2) Since when does the NBA manage Milwaukee city planning? And why does a for-profit enterprise get to zip on the skin of a not-for-profit?

The Bucks are big money. A couple of weeks ago one of the economists at the WisOpinion luncheon said $130 million would leave the Milwaukee economy if the Bucks go. This was implied as he gave reference to a study from the SuperSonics leaving Seattle and becoming the Oklahoma City Thunder.

OKC was promised the moon. It picked up a couple of shooting stars instead. My new favorite estimate is that the economic benefit is “incalculable.”

(Disclosure: I grew up in Oklahoma City. A Wendy’s restaurant and a couple of gas stations were considered an economic development triumph prior to bringing in the team.)

I could not find the study referenced at the luncheon. There are plenty of articles about economic impact. This one from Urban Milwaukee is my favorite.

3) If we have to do it, why can’t we own part of the Bucks like we get to own part of the Packers?

I’m not fine with subsidizing a cartel. I’m just not. Give me something tangible in return for my public investment. Right now I feel like a cheap whore being promised a bottle of champagne if all goes well.

(Yes, I know. Public ownership of the team is probably not allowed. Shouldn’t that tell you something?)

4) What if a mega-church came to build a facility promising the same returns? Would we still toss public money their way in addition to not-for-profit status?

(This is where I get to sound crazy, but I still think it’s worth considering.)

The church would keep restaurants full a couple of times a week. The structure would need parking. Plenty of jobs would be created.

Don’t snicker. You know I’m right. The answer would be absolutely no public dollars.

We’ve made athletics our religion since we’ve dumped churches. Now we all just want to belong to something. And we’re willing to subsidize an athletic team’s owners in order to worship.

The Roman Empire built brilliant coliseums and amphitheaters to communities who supported the emperor. (Here’s a twist: some of those are still being used 2,000 years later!) They built those facilities with the taxes collected from the peasantry.

Hail Walker or Free the Deer. What do you say?