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After rejecting Racine, Bucks G-League team set to play in new Oshkosh arena


OSHKOSH — Steve Cummings was understandably elated when he received the news.

As the mayor of Oshkosh, Cummings had invested a lot of time and effort into helping his city be the home of the Wisconsin Herd minor league basketball team.

When Milwaukee Bucks’ officials made it official last February and selected Oshkosh over Racine and Sheboygan to be the home of their G League affiliate team — previously referred to as the D-League — Cummings celebrated.

“We were absolutely thrilled,’’ said Cummings, who plans to be in attendance when the Herd play their first game in the newly constructed Menominee Nation Arena on Friday night. “Being a good Wisconsinite, I had a few beers. It was really exciting.’’

While the Bucks’ selection of Oshkosh, located on the western banks of Lake Winnebago, brought closure to an intense and prolonged battle among several in-state cities, the truth of the matter is Cummings had a strong inkling several months prior to the final decision that Oshkosh would land the team.

Early hints

Cummings had attended the Wisconsin League of Municipalities annual conference in Stevens Point in October 2016 and happened to be sitting next to Mike Vandersteen, the mayor of Sheboygan.

At one point during the gathering, Cummings said a representative from Racine got up and posed a question.

“One of your aldermen from Racine made a comment and I’m kind of paraphrasing this,’’ Cummings said. “But what he basically said was, ‘How do you get different entities to collaborate? We just can’t get collaboration (in Racine).’ ’’

And that instantly got the attention of Cummings and Vandersteen, Cummings said.

“Mike and I looked at each other right away and said, ‘They (Racine) are out of the running.’ That alderman was saying, ‘We just can’t get anyone to come together.’ ’’

Blowback in Racine

That certainly wasn’t the case for Oshkosh and Sheboygan officials. While then Racine Mayor John Dickert worked feverishly to figure out ways to convince Bucks officials to place their G League team here, he received considerable blowback from the community, especially when it came to financing a proposed $40 million multi-purpose arena that would be located in Downtown Racine near Lake Michigan.

Besides having the National Basketball Association’s G League team, plans were in the works for a United States Hockey League team to play there as well.

“I got to know John Dickert fairly well; I really enjoy John a great deal,’’ Cummings said. “I’ve been down to Racine to meet with John and saw how Racine is revitalizing its old neighborhoods. Some of the things Racine is doing, we adopted up here.

“But I knew he had an uphill battle with getting people (on board) for a new arena.’’

Conversely, Sheboygan and Oshkosh officials were receiving favorable feedback from most of their citizenry and financial packages came together relatively quickly.

In Sheboygan, there were plans to renovate the old Sheboygan Armory. In Oshkosh, there were plans — spearheaded by Windwood Wealth Strategies president Greg Pierce — to build a new arena that would not only be the home of the Herd, but also serve as a venue for concerts, conventions and weddings.

Private donors help out

Oshkosh officials decided to raze an old furniture store on a site near Lake Winnebago and, with a combination of private and public financing, agreed to construct an estimated $20 million state-of-the art arena.

Cummings said an unspecified number of private investors paid for the entire cost of the building, while tax increment financing (TIF) was used for all the infrastructure, including roads, sewer, utilities and water.

“The TIF money is between $3 million and $4 million,’’ Cummings said. “But we (city officials) were going to be doing work in that area anyway.’’

Since Oshkosh was selected as the Bucks’ G League affiliate, there has been a palatable buzz in the community, according to several Herd officials and players.

Herd President Steve Brandes, who had worked almost two decades in the NBA’s D League, including the last 10 overseeing the Idaho Stampede, said he was pleasantly surprised by how the Oshkosh community has embraced the team.

“The enthusiasm and excitement here has been off the charts,’’ Brandes said. “It’s really amazing. It’s a dynamic I’ve never seen before.

“It’s awesome to see the passion of our fan base.’’

Dave Dean, the Herd’s general manager who has been in the Bucks’ organization since 2001, pointed out the interaction that has already taken place between the team and its fans.

“It’s been kind of cool seeing how people have been coming up to us and making contact with us,’’ Dean said. “We’ve been practicing at the YMCA and kids line up and lean against the windows watching our practices.’’

Oshkosh embraces team

Herd players Gary Payton II and Sterling Brown said they’ve enjoyed their experiences in Oshkosh and appreciate the fans’ interest in them.

“The community in Oshkosh has been great,’’ said Payton, the son of former Bucks point guard and Hall of Fame inductee Gary Payton. “The Herd fans are excited to have us there. So far, it’s been really good. I’ve had nothing but good, positive vibes being there.’’

Added Brown, who was the Bucks’ second-round pick in the 2017 NBA draft: “It’s been great being in Oshkosh; everybody has been great to us. They are welcoming us with open arms.’’

They’re opening up their wallets, too. According to Brandes, more than 1,200 Herd season tickets have been sold.

That’s a highly respectable number, considering it’s about a third of the projected 3,600 seating capacity for Menominee Nation Arena.

“That’s a pretty good number for a launch team,’’ said Brandes, who added that walk-up tickets are priced from $10 to $130 with the front row already having been sold out. “Compared to the rest of the teams (in the G League), we’re sitting in the top tier.’’

Unfortunately for Herd fans, they have yet to see their new team play in its new arena. There was a slight delay to the opening of the arena for the start of the season and the Herd wound up playing the first three of their 24 regular-season home games at the BMO Harris Bradley Center in Milwaukee.

Herd officials attempted to make up for any inconvenience caused by the construction delay by providing free coach bus rides to and from the games in Milwaukee for their season ticket holders and team partners.

The Herd, who are off to a 6-3 start, will play the Iowa Wolves in their first game at Menominee Nation Arena on Friday night. Team officials are confident the wait to play in their new facility will be worth it for their fans.

“It’s probably one of the best, if not the best arena, in our league,’’ Brandes said of the 26-team G League. “The back of the arena overlooks Lake Winnebago and you have this beautiful view. It’s just a great place.’’

A boon to the economy

Cummings couldn’t agree more. He’s convinced the Menominee Nation Arena will be a boon for what already is a robust local economy that has a meager 2.8 percent unemployment rate. Racine’s is 4.3.

“I think this (the new arena) is going to have a tremendous impact on our community,’’ Cummings said. “The arena is south of the Fox River and that’s been a pretty old, tired and rundown area and this is going to spur a ton of redevelopment there. But it’s not only going to change that part of town but benefit the whole community.

“This wouldn’t have happened without collaboration. The whole community got behind us. We have tremendous collaboration on everything we do here. We have very good collaboration with the schools; we have good collaboration with the technical college; we’re very close with the university (UW-Oshkosh). It’s the tremendous collaboration we have that’s changed this community for the better.’’

Teen charged for string of shootings, armed robbery


RACINE — A Racine teen faces charges for a string of shootings over the past few months and an armed robbery the day before Thanksgiving.

Tihler B. Townes, 19, of the 1200 block of Racine Street, is charged with three counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety, stalking, armed robbery with use of force and two counts of attempted first-degree homicide, all felonies.

He is also charged with four misdemeanor counts of criminal damage to property, three counts of discharging a firearm within 100 yards of a building, carrying a concealed weapon and resisting or obstructing an officer.

According to the criminal complaint:

Townes was described by several victims to be the perpetrator of multiple reports of shots fired in Racine between Sept. 30 and Nov. 22. He also allegedly admitted to police his involvement in additional shootings.

Townes is one of three alleged perpetrators in an armed robbery on Nov. 22 in which a victim was shot outside of JoJo’s Quick Mart, 4303 16th St. As the victim was sitting in a car outside the store, three men — Townes and two others — allegedly ran up to the car. Townes and one other suspect began punching and beating the victim. The men then reportedly robbed the victim of cash and his cell phone before the victim freed himself from the attackers and started running north, into the street. As he was running away, one of the other suspects reportedly shot the victim, striking him in the back.

Townes allegedly told police that one of the other suspects was tipped off that the victim would be carrying a large amount of cash while he was at the Quick Mart. The other two suspects involved in the armed robbery have not yet been charged, according to online records.

Rival gang dispute

Townes reportedly admitted that on Nov. 6, he shot at a man from a rival gang from his mother’s van as their two vehicles passed one another near 13th and Franklin streets. Townes’ girlfriend and her children were reportedly in the car at the time.

Townes also is alleged to have shot at Dontrell King in the 1200 block of Highland Street on Oct. 30, after he and King got into an argument. Later that night, King reportedly shot at Townes and his girlfriend — in the 1200 block of Racine Street — while her four children were in the car. King was charged last month in connection to that incident.

The girlfriend initially told police that only she and her children were in the vehicle at the time of the shooting, but later contacted police saying Townes was with her at the time. She said she was originally untruthful because she feared for her life.

Threats made

Townes reportedly told her, “If you say my name, I’ll kill you. Go back, call the police and get him locked up. Don’t mention my name.”

The girlfriend allegedly told police that Townes had threatened her with a gun more than 30 times during their two-month relationship and had beaten her more than 20 times, she said.

Townes was also allegedly involved in a shooting on Nov. 7, in which he reportedly admitted to emptying a magazine into a group of people in the 1100 block of Metron Court because he thought King was in the crowd.

According to a neighbor, he also shot at a car at DeKoven Avenue and Howe Street on Sept. 30.

On Nov. 14, Townes allegedly shot at a vehicle belonging to another victim, in the 1900 block of Howe Street.

According to a press release from the Racine Police Department, Townes is also a suspect in incidents that occurred at 21st and Center streets, 13th and Highland streets and 13th Street and Grand Avenue.

Townes was arrested after being questioned by the Racine Police Department.

As of Thursday afternoon, Townes was still in custody on a $250,000 cash bond, online records show. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Dec. 7 at the Law Enforcement Center, 717 Wisconsin Ave.

Christmas comes to Union Grove

UNION GROVE — Guests at the Greater Union Grove Area Chamber of Commerce’s Christmas tree lighting ceremony Thursday night at the Village Square in downtown Union Grove were treated to a variety of activities, including holiday carols, dances and free hot chocolate and cookies as they awaited the countdown to the lighting of the village Christmas tree.

Among those performing at the ceremony was the Union Grove High School Chamber Choir.

The festivities were capped by a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus, who arrived on a fire engine and who distributed candy-filled stockings to children 10 and younger, courtesy of the Union Grove Lions Club.

Racine council committee to talk part-time mayor

RACINE — A Racine committee will discuss Tuesday whether to reduce the income for the mayor’s position down to a part-time level.

Alderman Henry Perez, who represents the city’s 12th District, proposed the conversation. He first suggested the city discuss the idea after former Mayor John Dicket announced he planned to leave his position mid-term to lead the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities initiative.

Perez could not be reached for comment Thursday, but he previously told The Journal Times that he does not believe the city needs both a full-time mayor and a city administrator. He said the City Council could play a bigger role.

City Council President Dennis Wiser, who is the alderman for the 10th District, said the mayor, as an elected official, does not have specific hours he must work. The only change the council could make would be to reduce the mayor’s income, he said.

Wiser said he doesn’t see a compelling reason at this time to make the change. Having filled the role between Dickert’s departure and Mayor Cory Mason taking office, Wiser said he believes the role demands full-time hours.

“I think there’s more than enough to keep the mayor busy,” he said.

Wiser said he is also concerned reducing the salary could narrow the pool of people willing to run for the position. The mayor’s seat earns $74,110.40 each year, according to Racine’s Human Resources department. Wiser said he’s aware of people who won’t run for the position now because of its salary.

The Committee of the Whole is scheduled to meet to discuss this topic at 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 730 Washington Ave.