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Milwaukee Weighs Convention Center Expansion Against New Sports Arena

10 Jun, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Usually, the hospitality industry benefits from the addition of local sports facilities. But right now, in Milwaukee, that just isn’t the case.

The proposed use of local taxes to help finance a new arena for the Bucks, Milwaukee’s NBA team, will likely kill plans to expand the downtown convention center, the Wisconsin Center, officials say.

According to an article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the proposed use of Milwaukee County hotel, restaurant and car rental taxes to help finance the new Bucks arena would delay for several years plans to use those funds for anything else, including the convention center expansion.

The district is to provide $93 million of the $250 million public share of the arena's $500 million development costs. That financing plan needs approval from the state Legislature and Common Council. The district would sell bonds to raise its money, and pay off the debt with three taxes it levies in Milwaukee County: 3% on car rentals, 2.5% on hotel rooms, and 0.5% on restaurant food and beverage sales. The district can raise the hotel room tax to 3%, but the other taxes are capped.

One proposed method of raising the funds for the expansion was to increase restaurant food and beverage sales tax from 0.5% to 1% . However, state legislation would have to be passed to raise taxes beyond currently capped levels, and officials say that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is opposed to the increase.

A bigger convention center would help Milwaukee remain competitive with comparable cities for conventions, bringing more money from visitors, according to officials. The current facility has 266,000 square feet of usable space; consultants have proposed an addition of 110,000 square feet. The  recommendation calls for expanding existing exhibition space by 60,000 square feet (currently 188,695), expanding ballroom space by 13,000 square feet (currently 37,506) and expanding meeting space by 36,000 square feet (currently 39,640). The expansion would be built just north of the current Wisconsin Center. The current facility is no stranger to the sports event planning community; it recently hosted the National Association of Sports Commission's Sports Event Symposium

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