April 18. 2014 11:00AM - Last modified: April 18. 2014 11:52AM

Downtown sites are leading contenders for new arena

By Dan Shafer, staff writer

Two downtown locations are emerging as likely potential sites for a new sports and entertainment arena in Milwaukee.

"We want it downtown, and we can figure out the mechanics of where, but that I don't think will be the big sticking point," said Common Council president Michael Murphy Thursday's Milwaukee Press Club "Behind the Headlines" event.

One option is building the arena on the vacant space at the Park East corridor north of the BMO Harris Bradley Center. The other would involve tearing down the U.S. Cellular Arena and the Milwaukee Theatre to make room for a new arena.

Alderman Nik Kovac said those are the two locations on the table as of now. Tearing down the U.S. Cellular Arena and the Milwaukee Theatre is an idea being put forth by Rocky Marcoux, commissioner of the Department of City Development, according to the panelists.

"The obvious one is the Park East, because it's contiguous to here and it's a nice big lot, so that's the obvious one," said Kovac. "I think Commissioner Marcoux's point to look at something close to Wisconsin Avenue, partly because then you'd be a little more catalytic of existing facilities and closer to the existing hotels."

Kovac said other concerns could arise from building on the Park East.

"Certainly, the option of building in a new, unbuilt space and then leaving a trail of dead arenas and theatres doesn't make any sense," Kovac said. "Tearing them down and building where they were actually makes a lot of sense, and that location is slightly better. The location in the Park East isn't terrible, but I certainly think we should explore both. It's a downtown major American city, so it's not like there are a ton of locations."

Bradley Center board chair Marc Marotta said, "Rocky (Marcoux)'s idea bears a lot of consideration. It needs to be downtown, and it needs to be a facilitator of more economic development downtown. If it's downtown and it's a facilitator for greater economic development, the pie will be increased and not only would we build this, you hope that you can address a number of other issues as well."

Murphy said the U.S. Cellular/Milwaukee Theatre site poses some concerns, as well.

"Keep in mind the Milwaukee Theatre has $28 million in bonding they haven't paid for," Murphy said. "Tearing down a theater which isn't even paid for – and probably should have never been built in the first place – the reality is that's pretty tough to ask taxpayers to do. I think the Park East certainly is an option."

Jeff Fleming, spokesman for the Department of City Development, said, "There is no preferred site at this point" and "a number" of options that could be considered.

"There is broad consensus that a new arena should be built at the center of the region," Fleming said. "There are greater economic benefits of having an arena in a downtown location. At this point (the idea of an arena at the site of the Milwaukee Theatre and the U.S. Cellular Arena is) not a formal city position…The bigger issue is how do we come to a community consensus on a source of funding and what that will support in terms of community benefits."

The location will be determined after the funding issue has been addressed, he said.