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Alderman: New arena might need regional sales tax

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News,Business,Taxes

MILWAUKEE (AP) — Seated at a table on the Milwaukee Bucks' home court, Peter Zehren looked around the BMO Harris Bradley Center on Thursday and acknowledged that the facilities look out of date. But the Milwaukee resident was firm when he said taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for an upgrade.

"It's a travesty to average citizens who deserve a better environment and safer streets," said Zehren, 53, who runs a nonprofit consulting firm. "Let them tax people when they go to events here."

Zehren was attending a Milwaukee Press Club event at the BMO Harris Bradley Center, where three local political and business leaders took questions from reporters about the debate over a new stadium. The speakers acknowledged that a local tax wouldn't be popular with residents like Zehren, but they said the option should be one of several on the table.

The Press Club event was planned weeks ago, well before Bucks owner Herb Kohl announced Wednesday that he is selling the team to Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens for $550 million. The two New York executives committed to providing $100 million to help build a new arena, and Kohl said he'd donate another $100 million.

However, a new stadium could cost $400 million or more. If private investors don't pick up the other half of the tab, taxpayers might be asked to cover the remainder.

The situation means tough decisions will have be made, said Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy, one of the panelists.

He said it'd be tough to persuade Milwaukee residents that scarce tax dollars should go toward building a new arena where there's not enough money for pressing social issues. One answer might be a sales tax, imposed not only on Milwaukee County residents but also on people who live in adjoining counties, he said.

Ozaukee, Racine and Waukesha counties already have said they oppose any new regional taxes to build arenas. But Murphy said the cost shouldn't fall only on Milwaukee, which struggles with deeper poverty-related problems than the other counties do.

"We might have to go with the higher moral ground argument" with the other counties, Murphy said. "If you want to see the region do well, you'll have to help. It makes no sense for the region to let the city of Milwaukee die."

Marc Marotta, the chairman of the BMO Harris Bradley Center board of directors, said the building is too small by NBA standards. For example, it can seat 7,500 fans in the lower bowl, but other NBA arenas seat an average of 10,000, he said.

Even if a new facility is not built, maintaining the current building would cost $100 million over the next 10 to 12 years, he said. That sum would end up being a public obligation anyway, he added.

"That's a challenge we face and that's a challenge the community faces," he said.

The next steps are likely to include efforts to attract as much funding as possible from private investors.

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Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde@ap.org.

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