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New arena could be in cards

The Bradley Center, pictured from the Southeast corner of Fourth and State streets in Milwaukee on Thursday, was awarded $5 million from the state to help with maintenance costs. Photo by John Krejci

The Bradley Center, pictured from the Southeast corner of Fourth and State streets in Milwaukee on Thursday, was awarded $5 million from the state to help with maintenance costs. Photo by John Krejci

Paul Snyder and Dustin Block

Plans to spend $23 million over the next 10 years maintaining Milwaukee’s Bradley Center doesn’t rule out eventually building a new arena, according to Bradley Center President Steve Costello.

“We’re focused on the here and now,” Costello said about the maintenance plan, which is designed to replace or upgrade systems to keep the arena functioning during the next decade.

But the maintenance program also gives the Bradley Center’s board of directors time to consider renovating the 21-year-old structure or possibly building a new home for the Milwaukee Bucks, Costello said.

“During that 10-year span, we’ll consider whether the Bradley Center, in a modified form, can continue to support an NBA level of basketball in our community,” he said. “I don’t think maintaining the venue in the short term precludes (new construction).”

The state Building Commission voted Wednesday to help the Bradley Center with its maintenance program. State taxpayers will provide $5 million over five biennial budgets for maintenance and upgrades.

The vote came after some debate.

State Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, said he supported the request, but was uncomfortable about spreading payments over ten years’ worth of time, when the lawmakers who voted for it might not be in office anymore, and no one knows what kind of future repairs might be necessary.

The only dissenting vote on the assistance came from state Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, who derided the decision to help finance a building in which the state has no interest and with no details on how the state money will be used.

“I recognize the economic environment; we all do,” he said. “But I don’t understand what the money’s for, and I’m very reluctant to encumber future Legislatures.”

However, Peter Maternowski, the Department of Administration’s portfolio management administrator in the Division of State Facilities, said future Legislatures could opt out of the payment plan.

That information provided solace to state Sen. Jeff Plale, D-South Milwaukee, who said he did not know if there would be a new arena facility built within the next 10 years.

“The scuttlebutt I hear, is that the days of the Bradley Center may be limited,” he said.

Gov. Jim Doyle defended the state’s contribution, saying it was a small contribution to help maintain a quasi-public building.

“We can debate over the legality of whether this is the people’s building,” he said. “But the Bradley Commission has public appointees appointed by the governor. The building has a recognized public purpose.

“This is a building with significant maintenance issues; we’re not taking on all maintenance costs.”

According to information attributed to him in a statement, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett called the state’s decision a “prudent measure” for the Bradley Center. He added that he didn’t know of any conversations on regional basis to replace the arena.

The Bradley Center was built in 1988 with a $90 million donation from Jane and Lloyd Pettit in honor of Jane’s father, Harry Lynde Bradley. The center would raise $18 million of the $23 million needed for the maintenance plan, according to a public statement from Ulice Payne Jr., chairman of the Bradley Center’s board of directors.

Projects include installing a new heating, ventilating and air-conditioning system, repairing the roof and façade, installing a new ice rink system and scoreboard and refurbishing seats.

The Bradley Center also continues to pursue alternative sources of revenue, Costello said. The arena owns about five acres of land around the Bradley Center that could be developed into hotels and restaurants that would support the arena, but the recession has slowed plans, Costello said.

“Development could play a meaningful role in augmenting the Bradley Center in the future,” he said. “Nothing is happening today and there’s no immediate timetable” for development.

d’Andre Willis, a leading green architect in the state, said renovating the Bradley Center would be the more environmentally responsible decision. New construction would require new infrastructure and building materials that wouldn’t be needed if the existing building is renovated, she said.

Willis, president of the Wisconsin Green Building Alliance and a principal at Hammel, Green, and Abrahamson Inc., Milwaukee, added any new construction would leave behind the Bradley Center, which would have to be addressed.

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