By Barry Adams
Wisconsin State Journal
MILWAUKEE (AP) — There were two center courts that drew considerable attention on North Fourth Street earlier this month, each with their own form of March Madness buzz.
The BMO Harris Bradley Center was overrun by Gophers, Boilermakers and Cyclones as the nearly 30-year-old building hosted for the last time the first and second rounds of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
The scene was in contrast to what was happening next door. That’s where steel-toed work boots replaced sneakers, 200-foot-tall cranes not 7-foot basketball players towered and cement trucks made full-court drives on dirt and gravel as work continued on the $524 million basketball arena for the Milwaukee Bucks.
But when college basketball fans return for the next NCAA tournament here, there will be much more than just a state-of-the-art, 17,500-seat arena, Turner Hall across the street, Major Goolsby’s a few blocks away and the bars, restaurants and shops that line the cobblestone streets of nearby Old World Third Street.
The $1 billion, 30-acre Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center financed in part with $250 million of state taxpayer money is designed to be a catalyst for the city’s downtown, create a year-round destination not only focused on basketball and further the state’s position as a major sports tourism destination.
“They’ve really taken the idea of an arena and elevated it to something much larger and much more community focused. It’s really going to be a touch-point for the city and revitalize that area of downtown,” said Kristin Settle, director of communications for VISIT Milwaukee. “It’s an exciting development not only for those of us living in Milwaukee but really the entire state of Wisconsin.”
Since the opening of the Bradley Center in 1988, college and pro sports facilities in the state have received major upgrades with serious cash.
The Kohl Center opened in 1998 in Madison and moved men’s and women’s basketball out of the historic but antiquated UW Fieldhouse, constructed in 1930, while the men’s hockey program ultimately vacated the Dane County Coliseum, another venue being eyed for redevelopment. Miller Park and its domed roof opened in 2001, which meant Brewers fans no longer had to endure sleet, cold and rainouts at County Stadium. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been pumped into Camp Randall and Lambeau Field to add seats, luxury boxes, club seating and other revenue-driving amenities to the football stadiums.
Herbert Kohler has built golf courses in Sheboygan County that have drawn pro-tour events; and baseball stadiums for minor league baseball teams and independent leagues for teams like the Madison Mallards have also been vastly improved or newly constructed. On East Washington Avenue in Madison, Breese Stevens Field, built in 1926, has a new playing surface and is now home to a professional Ultimate Frisbee team and is hosting concerts that this year will include Boston and the Avett Brothers.
And let’s not forget what’s happening between Lambeau Field and Interstate 43 in Green Bay. The $130 million Titletown District is being developed on 34 acres that will soon include a hotel, brewery, health center and ultimately apartments, condominiums, shops and a massive plaza that can be used year-round.
The Bucks organization, with its ambitious Milwaukee project, is next in line. The team also recently announced that it would locate its development team in Oshkosh, where a 3,500-seat arena is planned as part of the Sawdust District development in a former industrial corridor along Lake Winnebago.
“It’s been an unbelievable transformation,” Peter Feigin, president of the Bucks, said of the sports facility upgrades. “With an asset that has so much investment in it, it only makes sense to leverage it year-round.”
The arena district in Milwaukee will include a 55,000-square-foot training facility for the Bucks, while Froedert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin are building an adjacent 37,000-square-foot public health center. Across the street, the Bucks are building 90 apartments and a parking garage for 1,250 vehicles and street-level retail.
The structure would also include a sky bridge to the arena and provide relief for some fans who doled out between $35 and $50 to park last week in some of the lots around the Bradley Center.
The projects would further be enhanced by a 100,000-square-foot entertainment block along Fourth Street that would include a public plaza connected to the arena, restaurants, bars and shops. To the north, another 1.5 million square feet of land of what used to be the Park East Freeway is also slated for development over the next 10 to 12 years.
“The impact on tourism is going to be huge,” said Settle, who estimated that the NCAA tournament resulted in 6,500 hotel stays and a $6 million economic impact.
The arena, scheduled to open in fall 2018, will be home to the Bucks and the Marquette Golden Eagles men’s basketball team. But Feigin also envisions NCAA basketball and hockey tournaments, the Big Ten volleyball tournament and major concerts for the venue, which will include dressing rooms, better acoustics and loading docks that will make it easier for roadies to set up a show.