The first legislative hurdle to a new downtown arena in Milwaukee has been cleared with relative ease.
On Friday evening, after a long day of meetings and discussions, the Wisconsin State Senate approved $250 million in funding for the new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks and Marquette men's basketball by a tally of 21 votes for and 10 votes against. Two senators, one from each side of the political aisle were absent and did not cast votes.
The voting on the bill was critical this week. Senator Paul Farrow (R-Pewaukee) has been a proponent of building a new Milwaukee arena, but he was recently elected as the Waukesha County Executive and has been serving in both positions over the last few months. Farrow is resigning from the Senate to focus on his county job, and that resignation is effective on Friday.
There were two changes to the bill through amendments on Wednesday, although the two are intertwined. The provision that required Milwaukee County to turn over a debt collection program to the state was dropped. Added to the bill was a $2 ticket surcharge, with $1.50 going to the Wisconsin Center District and the remainder going to the state. The Wisconsin Center District is the group that operates as the caretaker for the UWM Panther Arena, Milwaukee Theater, and the Wisconsin Center convention center. As a part of the arena bill, that group will be reorganized to also keep track of the new arena as well as the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts.
The bill will now pass to the State Assembly for approval. In a statement released shortly after the passage in the Senate, Assembly leadership said they expected to vote on the bill in the next few weeks. They also said that changes to the bill were possible. If changes occur in the Assembly, the bill would have to go back to the Senate to be approved again.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has a full listing of how every senator voted. I don't encourage anyone to be a one issue voter, but if you're a fan of the Bucks or Marquette and don't have a good reason to vote to re-elect your senator, well, you gotta do what you gotta do, y'know?
A special shoutout to Save Our Bucks is necessary. The crew of SOB has been outstanding at marshaling an army of supporters for the arena. That effort will continue as the Assembly takes up the bill for debate, so the work is not done yet. Be sure to check in with their site and their Twitter for more information on how you can help make the arena a reality.