The Bradley Center opened its doors 25 years ago, a $90 million gift to Milwaukee from Jane Bradley Pettit to honor her father, Harry Lynde Bradley. At the time, the Milwaukee Bucks' new home was one of the premier arenas in the NBA.
But those days are long gone, and the stadium, now known as the BMO Harris Bradley Center, doesn't cut it for the Bucks. Soon-to-be NBA commissioner Adam Silver said as much on Wednesday at the "Bucks Partner Summit," according to Rich Kirchen of The Business Journal:
"One obvious issue we all have to deal with is we need a new arena in Milwaukee," said Adam Silver, deputy National Basketball Association commissioner, speaking of the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
Silver had just completed a tour of the Bradley Center, and he found several major issues that plague the arena, despite recent renovations:
"At the end of the day compared to other modern arenas in the league, this arena is a few hundred thousand square feet too small," Silver said. "It doesn't have the sort of back-of-house space you need, doesn't have the kinds of amenities we need.
"It doesn't have the right sort of upper bowl/lower bowl (seating) configuration for the teams frankly that Milwaukee wants to compete against," he said.
While Silver is just addressing this now, the Bucks' arena issue has been a part of the discussion in Milwaukee for years.
Ironically, the fact that the Bradley Center was a gift to Milwaukee has been a hindrance to the Bucks, because the gift included no provisions for the building's long-term capital needs or annual operating expenses. This self-sufficient nature put the Bradley Center at a disadvantage when compared to other NBA arenas, and it certainly hasn't helped the value of the Bucks, the least-valuable team in the NBA, according to Forbes.
Bucks owner Herb Kohl and other officials have recognized the problem, and they have worked hard in recent years to make the Bradley Center more viable while making preparations for a new arena plan.
In 2009, Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle sought $5 million in state funding to help renovate the arena. Numerous new revenue streams have been created to bring in more money, including a naming-rights deal with BMO Harris Bank in 2012.
Upon securing that naming-rights deal, the Bucks signed a new six-year lease with the Bradley Center, which replaced a year-to-year arrangement that was less than ideal. The Bucks also unveiled some new upgrades, including improvements to the suites and an expansion of the theater boxes. The new lease runs through 2017, and it will help allow the Bucks to focus on building a case for a new arena.
However, securing the necessary funds for that new arena could be a problem, and proposals for a new arena tax in Racine County have recently been met with staunch opposition.
There's some precedent, as a regional sales tax for Miller Park, home of MLB's Milwaukee Brewers, was pushed through in October, 1995. But there was some controversy surrounding the passing of that bill, and former state Senator George Petak lost his seat in a 1996 recall election after his swing vote was key in creating the Miller Park tax. When asked by The Journal Times, all polled legislators said they would vote against any type of regional sales tax in Racine County for a new Bucks arena.
That's problematic. Without that funding source for a new facility, are the Bucks a possible relocation candidate in the future, especially with Seattle still a legitimate player for an NBA team?
It's too early to say, but Kohl and the Bucks have a lot of work to do. Luckily for Milwaukee, Silver supports the efforts that have been made to keep the team in the city. Silver cited Kohl's ownership as one of the franchises biggest strengths and said the 78-year-old is definitely committed to keeping the team in Milwaukee.
Silver has also recently said that there are no NBA teams for sale, so the Bucks aren't in any immediate danger of leaving despite the planning of new NBA-quality arenas in several cities. The Bucks should be helped by the league's new CBA, as well as the upcoming television rights deal, so they won't be at quite the disadvantage as they once were.
Still, it's clear that the Bucks need a new home in the near future, so they will need to be diligent in working through the roadblocks on the way to building an arena. Otherwise, relocation will become an even bigger threat in the coming years.