Bucks Look to Future as Fiserv Forum Opens

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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


Ask any of the owners of the Milwaukee Bucks what fans will say about Fiserv Forum in 20 years and the answer is the same: Wow!

Even two decades out, they say, fans will be impressed by a pro basketball arena that was built to be — and remains — state of the art.

And they'll be in a building that is surrounded by offices, apartments, hotels, a grocery store — a vibrant urban neighborhood that's a far cry from what was the desolate Park East freeway corridor.

"Instead of raw land and dirt patches they'll see all of that," said Bucks owner Marc Lasry.

"Twenty years from now, you'll say, 'Wow!' "co-owner Mike Fascitelli said.

The Bucks leadership hopes to deliver the first taste of that excitement at the Fiserv Forum grand opening Sunday. Thousands are expected to attend the event, which begins with an 11 a.m. block party followed by a ribbon-cutting, speeches and free tours.

Transparent, transformative

From practically any spot inside the $524 million building, you can see the basketball court and clear across to other concourses and levels. That transparency makes the arena feel more intimate; it's the first impression cited by many visitors.

The building also offers soaring views of the entertainment plaza and businesses under construction outside the main entrance on the east side. It's part of the transformation that the Bucks and local officials believe Fiserv Forum already has ignited in the northwest portion of downtown Milwaukee.

"The arena is already paying dividends," said Mayor Tom Barrett. "We're seeing more activity and continued interest in economic development and growth in this area, and that means jobs."

Co-owner Wes Edens and the other owners said the grand opening is one step in a much longer process that involves more than NBA basketball.

"I didn't just want to build an arena," Edens said. "I wanted us to play a real role in revitalizing downtown Milwaukee."

Rapid pace, no surprises

Sunday's event comes two years and a few months after construction began and a little more than four years since the team was sold for $550 million by former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl to New York billionaires Lasry and Edens.

The arena was a key part of the agreement that Kohl struck with the new owners, requiring that the Bucks remain in Milwaukee if a replacement for the Bradley Center was built.

The Bucks owners — and Kohl — delivered on their promise to cover more than half of the cost of the arena. And taxpayers, through state, city and county packages, contributed $250 million.

"Everybody did their jobs," Kohl said of the public financing package.

"It was a very fair deal for everyone," Edens said. "It's so important in life to deliver on the promises that we make."

Kohl said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver deserves special credit for paving the way for the deal and Fiserv Forum.

"From the first day, he was utterly supportive of our efforts," Kohl said. "He was great. It wouldn't have turned out as well as it did without his support."

Kohl said Fiserv Forum will be a "landmark for our city and the state to support and enjoy."

"I don't think that any of us were expecting to be ahead of schedule and under budget, which is where we are," said New York hedge fund manager Jamie Dinan, who joined Lasry and Edens as an owner a few months after the sale.

The Bucks exceeded goals for employment of local workers on the construction, Barrett said. At the same time, he said, the team has raised its involvement throughout the community.

The speed of the project surprised observers and even the jet-setting team owners, who in their day jobs are routinely involved in huge business deals such as the construction of power plants.

"Four years ago we had the team, but no land and an older arena that needed to be replaced," Fascitelli said. "And we did this in a time frame that was about as fast as humanly possible."

The owners approached the arena project "just like we would any serious business venture," demanding accountability and performance from all involved in Milwaukee, Edens said. That included Bucks President Peter Feigin, construction manager Mortenson and Icon, the owners' representative in the project.

"These are all really, really capable people," he said.

The project has faced bumps along the way. The naming rights deal with Brookfield-based Fiserv Corp. took longer than predicted. The bars, restaurants and other businesses in the entertainment block won't open until next spring.

A corporate headquarters hasn't materialized. However, Fiserv might be considering a move from Brookfield to a site that the Bucks control just north of the arena.

More development expected

Fascitelli estimated that, including the arena, about $750 million in development has come to the area.

That includes privately financed buildings such as the Bucks training facility, the adjacent Froedtert and Medical College of Wisconsin McKinley Health Center and Five Fifty Ultra Lofts, a 112-unit apartment building being constructed just west of the arena's new parking structure.

Gov. Scott Walker said Fiserv Forum will help revitalize Milwaukee.

"The new home for the Bucks is a big deal for Wisconsin and specifically Milwaukee," Walker said in a statement. "...A new arena and an exciting team will help attract and retain prospective employees."

Much more is to come, the Bucks owners promise.

The Bucks' real estate arm controls about 40 acres in the area, including the BMO Harris Bradley Center site and a large parcel just north of Fiserv Forum.

"In time, that whole area will be different," Edens said, adding, "I'm impatient about this and want it all to happen at once."

Attention to quality, details

Fans getting their first look inside Sunday will be impressed not only by the sight lines but also by the level of detail and quality of the building, the owners said. The signature zinc panels on the swooping north roof of the building appear in the main lobby.

As recently as Thursday, Feigin was patrolling the halls fussing over wallpaper, paint colors and the employee entrance. The attention to detail was remarkable, even in areas most fans will never visit.

Dinan said: "We really spared no expense to try and make it fan-friendly as far as the sight lines, the views and technology that people expect."

"This is not just an upgrade" from the BMO Harris Bradley Center, said Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, a Bucks season ticket holder for 20 years. "People are going to be blown away."

Other touches include state-of-the-art, high-speed cell service; high-quality, locally sourced concessions; and a public art program.

"It's like the end of a long effort," Fascitelli said of the grand opening. "But it's also just the beginning of a whole new chapter."


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August 26, 2018


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