Sweetheart Milwaukee concert deal could prove costly to taxpayers

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — A state lawmaker sent out a warning last month urging the Milwaukee City Council against signing off on a competing concert complex proposed for the city’s famed Deer District. The council did not heed the warning.

State Rep. John Macco in an urgent letter asked the city to table and oppose FPC Live’s plan to use highly valuable land to build a two-venue concert complex —  an 800-capacity ballroom and a 4,000-capacity hall. The Ledgeview Republican warned the venues, which would directly compete with existing concert facilities, could ultimately cost taxpayers.

“I have serious concerns that the revenue impact on the city with the proposed concert venue will be zero and potentially a loss,” Macco wrote.

Despite opposition, the city approved the plan at its Nov. 1 meeting.

As Empower Wisconsin has reported, it’s all a sweetheart deal for Madison-based FPC, part of the Live Nation Entertainment/Ticketmaster-backed Frank Productions corporate family, the largest live entertainment and venue operator in the country.

Under the plan, FPC Live is entered into a long-term land lease of former BMO Harris Bradley Center property now owned by the Milwaukee Bucks.

The Bucks got the 5.9 acre parcel after the state of Wisconsin — thanks to its taxpayers — paid off the remaining $10 million debt on the old Bradley Center and transferred the deed to the Wisconsin Center District (WCD), the government body that built and operates downtown’s convention and exhibition center, the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, and Miller High Life Theatre. WCD then transferred the land to the Milwaukee Bucks for free.

The land was part of the 2015 deal that includes $250 million in state taxpayer money for the Fiserv Forum, the half-billion dollar, multi-purpose arena that is home to the NBA team.

Construction on the complex is expected to begin next year, with an opening slated for 2024.

Bucks President Peter Feigin has been a vocal supporter of the deal, as has Mayor Cavalier Johnson.

“These venues will contribute greatly to Milwaukee’s thriving and ever-growing music scene, and we’re thrilled for fans to experience even more live entertainment opportunities in the area,” Feigin said.

The venues will canibalize the Milwaukee music scene, according to concert promoters and owners of adjacent Pabst Theater, Riverside Theater, Turner Hall Ballroom, Miller High Life Theatre, The Rave, and others.

Macco agrees.

“This development will bring no additional revenue to the City or the State, harm established local music venues and potentially put them out of business,” Macco warned in his letter to the city council.

He noted the land, subsidized by Wisconsin taxpayers, was provided with the understanding that there would be a hotel and retail complex built on the property. Such uses would “enhance, rather than detract from City revenues.”

Macco serves in leadership on the Legislative Joint Audit committee, and is chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means committee. He notes that in his audit capacity he helps direct the Legislative Audit Bureau in oversight of any taxing authority in both financial and operational matters. And the Ways and Means Committee has direct responsibility for approving all tax incremental financing, tax incremental districts, and Premier Resort Area Tax.

Milwaukee benefits from a successful Wisconsin Center District, which, under a new program will pay the city $1 million of the first $30 million of district-generated revenue beginning in 2025. The city will receive another $1 million for each $10 million of revenue generated annually in the district above $30 million.

“If the proposed facility diminishes District revenues by negatively impacting the Miller High Life Theatre and new Wisconsin Center Rooftop Ballroom, already within the TID, the City would lose valuable revenue,” Macco wrote. The state, he added, has a significant investment in the tax incremental district.

But the city of Milwaukee disregarded the warnings and plowed ahead in unanimously approving the development.

Empower Wisconsin | Nov. 17 2022

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