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The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The Milwaukee Bucks and local officials are making a full-court press to land the NBA All-Star Game.
It's not a long shot on the basketball front — the Bucks are shooting for 2022 or 2023 and their new $524 million arena opens this fall.
But there are other obstacles to overcome, including concern that the area doesn't have enough top-tier hotel rooms available for the well-heeled crowd that comes to such an event, said Ted Loehrke, the Bucks' executive vice president for strategy and development.
Late last month, the Bucks and local officials took the first steps to assure the NBA brass that small-market Milwaukee is capable of holding the NBA's version of the Super Bowl. They're making a big effort to stress a message of cooperation and show the league that they're well-organized.
During the visit by NBA officials, local leaders emphasized that Milwaukee has successfully hosted other events that draw thousands of visitors like the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, Summerfest or the Harley-Davidson anniversaries, Loehrke said.
They showed off the new arena as well as the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena and Wisconsin Center District convention space, which are important parts of the Bucks' bid. The NBA requires cities to have a primary and secondary arena. It helps that those facilities are clustered together downtown, Loehrke said.
"We stressed for them how coordinated we are with the Wisconsin Center District and the UWM Panther Arena," Bucks President Peter Feigin said. "We think it went great."
Wisconsin Center District CEO Marty Brooks added: "The bigger the event, the bigger collaboration that we're going to need to pull it off."
The NBA seeks bids for two years of All-Star Games. The most recent games were awarded late last year, to Chicago for 2020 and Indianapolis for 2021.
The All-Star weekend begins on a Thursday and includes a game featuring minor league players in the NBA's G League, celebrity and rising stars games and a slam dunk contest.
Loehrke said that the 2017 event in New Orleans generated an $83 million economic impact, slightly less than the All-Star Game's five-year average of $100 million.
The All-Star Game has been played since 1951 and was in Milwaukee once — in 1977 at the MECCA (now Panther) arena.
Brooks and Feigin said that the weather in Milwaukee won't hurt the city's chances. The game is held in February.
Organizers can make creative use of heated tents "and other spaces throughout the city," Brooks said. "You've got great venues in this city that can host all kinds of events relating to the All-Star Game."
Loehrke said the hotel room issue was a concern, but one that can be overcome.
The league says the local market needs to have 6,000 hotel rooms and much of them must be "four-star" quality, Loehrke said.
"We can get to the raw number, but maybe some of the quality isn't there," he said.
One option, he said, would be to send guests to the American Club in Kohler or resorts in Lake Geneva.
The travel time from those hotels is no worse than the delays caused by slow traffic in Los Angeles, he said.
The All-Star event would require 25,000 to 26,000 hotel room nights, said Paul Upchurch, president of Visit Milwaukee, the convention and visitors bureau.
"That's a major event," one that's slightly smaller than the Harley-Davidson anniversaries that require about 30,000 room nights, he said.
"I think we could make it. I think we could find hotels that could meet their needs," Upchurch said.
He agreed that the relative ease of transportation was an advantage for the Milwaukee bid.
"The NBA has commented about the amount of time that attendees have to spend in buses and cars" at other locales, he said.
Mayor Tom Barrett said officials stressed the positive impact that the new arena is having on downtown Milwaukee and the enthusiasm for the event among civic leaders.
"We talked about the incredible renaissance that is going on in our community," Barrett said.
The All-Star events draw an international audience and would be a major boost for a small market NBA community like Milwaukee, Loehrke said.
"This is truly a global event on a global stage," he said. "This would show that we are capable of pulling off big events such as this."
"I think we meet all of the requirements," Barrett said.
No deadline has been given for the NBA decision on the next batch of All-Star Games, Loehrke said.
The 2018 All-Star Game is Feb. 18 in Los Angeles.
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