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A new Bucks arena on the lakefront? Unlikely

Posted July 25, 2014

By Don Walker in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

As planning and debate continue on the need for a new arena in Milwaukee and how to pay for it, there is also talk about where it ought to be built.

One location that has come up in the conversation is the lakefront. Specifically, somewhere in the vicinity of the Summerfest grounds.

But in interviews with key players in the arena debate, some of whom are unwilling to talk on the record, the consensus is a lakefront location is not in play.

"It's not going to happen," said one source who is involved in the discussions with new Milwaukee Bucks owners Wes Edens and Marc Lasry. "It's off the table."

Edens himself feels the same way. He told the Journal Sentinel that he has looked at different sites and prefers a downtown location.

"Milwaukee is blessed to have a handful of different alternatives," Edens said. "We toured the lakefront. My preference is to be in the middle of downtown."

Mayor Tom Barrett said he was scheduled to meet with Edens and Lasry this week on the arena question, but the meeting had to be rescheduled. Asked where he thought an arena should be built, Barrett replied, "Downtown. As close to Wisconsin Ave. as we can get."

And the lakefront, at or near the Summerfest grounds? "I don't see that happening," Barrett said.

Barrett knows there is plenty going on the lakefront right now. The goal of the $34 million Lakefront Gateway Project is to strengthen the connections between downtown, Lake Michigan and the Third Ward.

Add in the Summerfest grounds and arena developers would be hard pressed to shoehorn in a new arena.

Don Smiley, president and CEO of Summerfest, said in an email that he had no details about potential arena locations.

"I do, however, think this is about an entertainment district, not just an arena location," he said. "This much is for sure. The new Bucks owners are smart, experienced, sophisticated investors/developers. They will definitely figure this out."

The desire for a downtown location is due, in large part, to the stated goal of marrying a new arena with a much larger economic development. Both Edens and Lasry have talked about a much larger economic project, with retail, commercial and housing components.

That leaves the much discussed Park East area, the area immediately north of the BMO Harris Bradley Center or land now occupied by the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena (formerly known as the U.S. Cellular Arena) and the Milwaukee Theatre. That site is preferred by Rocky Marcoux, commissioner of the city's Department of City Development, though getting that site secured for a new arena would have to involve a number of governmental bodies, including the city, Milwaukee County, and the Wisconsin Center District.

The land just north of the BMO Harris Bradley Center is just big enough for an NBA-sized arena. The BMO Harris Bradley Center board of directors owns most, but not all, of the land north of the arena to W. Juneau Ave., and between N. 4th and N. 6th streets.

Other sites in the downtown area have been discussed, including land at N. 2nd and W. Michigan Sts.

There also has been some discussion of locating the arena somewhere in the suburbs. That's not unheard of: the Detroit Pistons have been in suburban Auburn Hills for years and recently announced they were committed to staying out there instead of moving back to downtown Detroit. In the Pistons' case, they are out in the suburbs because that's where their fans live.