By Don Walker of The Milwaukee Journal Sential (Original Article from JSOnline)
For the second time in three years, the state is giving the BMO Harris Bradley Center a $5 million grant for much-needed maintenance work.
The grant represents a change in position for Gov. Scott Walker. Last December, his spokesman said the governor believed the arena, the oldest in the National Basketball Association without a significant upgrade, had the ability to raise money "on its own merits."
In March 2011, Walker rejected a BMO Harris Bradley Center proposal for a $10 million bonding plan.
Three years ago, former Gov. Jim Doyle signed off on a $5 million grant to the arena. Some of that money was spent for the BMO Harris Bradley Center's $3.2 million scoreboard. The money allocated toward the scoreboard ultimately became an issue in some state legislative races, with opponents accusing incumbents of spending state money frivolously.
On Tuesday, Cullen Werwie, Walker's spokesman, referred questions to the state Department of Administration, which he said made the grant.
The Bradley Center first opened in October 1988 and was constructed largely through the generosity of the late Jane Bradley Pettit in memory of her father, Harry Lynde Bradley.
Under state law, the Bradley Center was designated a state-owned facility, though it is managed by the Bradley Sports & Entertainment Corp.
By current NBA standards, the BMO Harris Bradley Center is one-third the size of most arenas. In addition, it does not offer the kind of amenities, such as more premium seating and retail space, that most modern arenas have.
Evan Zeppos, a BMO Harris Bradley spokesman, said the arena's board was grateful for the state support.
"We're going to use it for a variety of things," he said. "It's vital and helps extend the life of Mrs. Pettit's gift."
Zeppos said the arena needed upgrades in many of its building systems, including mechanical, electrical, plumbing, lighting, roofing, seating and some flooring.
"We also plan to look at some upgrades in our security and safety systems," Zeppos said.
Zeppos added that the grant will not solve all the problems at the arena. "There is going to have to be a public-private partnership while the community wrestles with the question of what to do about a new arena," he said.
"We take it one step at a time. And at this point, we are grateful they are providing support for a state-owned facility. There are some significant needs that we have because of the size and age of the building. We believe we have five or six years that we still have to operate while the community figures out what it wants to do."
The state money comes just four months after BMO Harris Bradley Center officials announced a significant commitment from the business community. In May, the arena was renamed the BMO Harris Bradley Center after the bank signed a naming rights agreement believed to be worth $1 million a year.
In addition, the BMO Harris Bradley Center received sponsorship commitments from several other corporations, including Harley-Davidson, Kohl's Corp., Northwestern Mutual and Rockwell Automation. In all, the firms' financial commitment totals more than $18 million over six years.
"This combination of public-private partnership really is a significant step forward," Zeppos said. "It is very helpful."
BMO Harris Bradley Center officials, as well as the Milwaukee Bucks, the arena's main tenant, are close to finalizing a new, six-year lease. In recent years, the Bucks and the arena have operated on a year-to-year basis.