Bucks owner Kohl makes push for new arena
By: By Chris Jenkins, AP Sports Writer, Superior Telegram
MILWAUKEE — With general manager John Hammond and coach Scott Skiles returning for the final year of their contracts next season, the Milwaukee Bucks have some short-term stability in place.
It's the long-term future of the franchise that the team's owner, Sen. Herb Kohl, has on his mind.
Kohl confirmed Friday that Hammond and Skiles both will be back, with no contract extensions imminent. But Kohl spent much of a nearly hour-long session with reporters making the case that the Bucks need a plan in place for a new arena to replace the Bradley Center.
The 77-year-old Kohl said he doesn't have any immediate plans to sell the team and is committed to keeping it in Milwaukee.
"In order for that to continue, we have to have a new facility," Kohl said. "There isn't anybody that doesn't recognize that and understand that it has to happen. And we're no longer talking about it in terms of, at some point in the future. We're talking about beginning to make plans to get it done."
The Bradley Center opened in October 1988, making it one of the NBA's older arenas. Kohl said building a "multipurpose, modern facility" would be a boost for the city that goes beyond the Bucks.
Kohl committed to making a "not insignificant" contribution toward the construction of a new arena out of his own pocket, but said he believes the project probably would require a combination of contributions from the public and the local business community. And Kohl acknowledged that asking for public contributions — especially for a team that is struggling with attendance — will be a significant challenge in the current economy.
"I'm not saying it's the most important thing in the world," Kohl said. "Our families, our jobs, education, the economy, there are many things that one would rank as higher than this in priority. But you know, I think we're pleased that we have the Packers in Wisconsin, we're pleased that we have the Brewers in Wisconsin. It elevates the quality of our life, as well as our economy in our state. And I think the same thing could be said about continuing with a franchise in the NBA."
Kohl acknowledged the difficulty involved in building Miller Park for the Brewers and renovating Lambeau Field for the Packers, but said both projects turned out to be worthwhile. Asked if he had a deadline in mind for a new arena deal to be in place before he might consider selling the team, Kohl said no. He said the Bucks are working with Bradley Center officials on extending their lease but only for a relatively short term.
Kohl said he would consider taking on investors, but any potential investor would have to consider keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee a priority.
For now, Kohl is focusing on the Bucks improving under Hammond and Skiles.
"John is contracted to be with us this coming year," Kohl said. "Skiles is contracted to be with us this coming year. We're looking for good and great results, and a long and happy relationship. It's on that basis that we're going forward. I don't mean to be humorous about this, but we all work day-to-day, week-to-week, year-to-year, and we all understand that's life."
Hammond, who sat next to Kohl during the news conference, said he was comfortable working without a contract extension in place.
On the court, the Bucks hope to improve by having Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis play together for a full season, starting with a regular offseason that isn't interrupted by a lockout. The Bucks added Ellis in a trade with Golden State late last season, giving away oft-injured center Andrew Bogut in the deal.
In hindsight, Hammond called it a difficult decision to trade Bogut.
"The problem with us, we'd been playing more without a big guy having him in the roster," Hammond said. "He just wasn't healthy, (we) couldn't keep him healthy. And once again, when I say that, I wish him nothing but the very best, and I mean that."
Both Hammond and Skiles acknowledged the Bucks' need for a big man who can provide a defensive presence next season. Kohl, who is not seeking re-election this year and will retire from the Senate, made light of his plans to spend more time with the team.
"The people who most wanted me to run for re-election were the people at the Bucks," Kohl joked.
But when it comes to a new arena, Kohl made it clear he is serious.
"It's not a 'wish' thing," Kohl said. "It's a 'must' thing, in order for us to continue as a member of the NBA."