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Amid skepticism, committee passes Bucks arena zoning changes

City officials overcame initial opposition Tuesday to approve zoning changes and general design plans to make way for the proposed new Milwaukee Bucks arena and related developments.

The changes — which involved taking three places in the city that were zoned separately and making them subject to an overarching plan — would give developers greater leeway to build what they see fit, City Planner Vanessa Koster said to members of the Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee.

The area the Bucks and affiliated developers have in their sights is generally bordered by West McKinley Avenue to the north, West State Street to the south and North Old World 3rd Street and 6th Street to the east and west, respectively. The plans that the Bucks organization presented to the zoning committee Tuesday fell in line with a tentative schedule that had been presented to the city’s Plan Commission in November.

Reviewing the plan, Alderman Nik Kovac raised questions about the project schedule, particularly a part that is to guide development in a block bounded by West McKinley and West Juneau avenues to the north and south, and North 5th and 6th streets to the east and west. This block lies just northwest of the site selected for the new arena, which itself is to be built directly north of the team’s current home in the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

He pointed out that the plans would have a parking structure built at the site a full phase before an associated apartment complex would go up on the same block.

“I can’t support allowing standalone parking structures,” Kovac said. “To me it’s got to be simultaneous.”

In response, Greg Uhen, chief executive and design partner at Milwaukee-based Eppstein Uhen Architects, pointed out the parking garage would be used in the meantime by people who live or have business in other structures.

“We do plan for activation along the base of the parking structure to the south with retail space and to the north with office space, so three sides of the (parking) will be activated,” he said.

Alderman Robert Bauman, who also expressed reservations about the plans for the parking structure, said the committee could approve the proposed zoning changes on Tuesday and then come back at a later date to deal with his concerns.

Koster said the plans up for consideration Tuesday would simply provide guidance for when future requests are made to zone sites associated with the Bucks development.

Bucks representatives, in other words, will again have to get the consent of both the zoning committee and Milwaukee Common Council to build on specific blocks. Further approvals will be needed not only for the arena itself, but also the proposed parking structure, a so-called “live block” designated for food and entertainment purposes, a team practice structure and a future mixed-use development.

Kovak said he hopes the requests the Bucks submit at a later date include plans to conceal the proposed parking structure’s open sides. At the same time, he acknowledged that the proposed construction, for no more reason than its large scope, will take several years. Meanwhile, “how this looks in the interim is really going to matter to everyone in Milwaukee and (everyone) who travels through Milwaukee, so keep that in mind.”

The Bucks representatives said the committee can expect to see them in person again within 60 days. Bucks president Peter Feigin told Kovak that he and his colleagues are being mindful of the parking structure’s appearance.

“We care deeply about the aesthetics of this,” he said.

A development agreement with the Bucks affiliate Deer District LLC called for the organization to submit detailed plans by March 1 and have a lease with the Wisconsin Center District by the beginning of April. The agreement also calls for construction to start by June 1.

About Alex Zank, [email protected]

Alex Zank is a construction reporter for The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at 414-225-1820.

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