Last week in Oshkosh, the home opener for the Milwaukee Bucks’ minor-league basketball team was held at that city’s new indoor stadium.
It was a big deal in Oshkosh and something for them to celebrate. Last year, Racine lost in its bid to have the Bucks’ G-League team make its home here.
When Cory Mason, then a mayoral candidate, came out in opposition to the arena/event center proposal, one of the reasons he cited was that Racine was not unified with regard to the arena.
Those sentiments were echoed by Oshkosh Mayor Steve Cummings when he talked about his observations about Racine leading up to the Bucks’ decision.
He said at a Wisconsin League of Municipalities conference in 2016, a representative from Racine got up and asked: “How do you get different entities to collaborate? We just can’t get collaboration (in Racine).’’
That is when he knew Racine wouldn’t end up with the developmental team because they didn’t have unity.
Fast-forward to more than a year later: That unity still does not exist with regard to the arena proposal.
If Racine could have landed the Bucks’ G-League team, maybe we would be having a different discussion. Maybe momentum toward the project would have built.
That didn’t happen. To date, no big private investors have come forward to say they want the arena and will pitch in to make it happen.
When aldermen last voted to proceed with the arena, they set up clear conditions that would need to be met before going forward. Those 10 conditions included an agreement with a private-sector developer to build a hotel, a naming-rights partner and an agreement to secure roughly $365,000 annually from outside sources, be that governmental, private or otherwise. So far, the public hasn’t heard any announcement of those three conditions being met.
The one thing that has happened is that the city’s newly elected mayor has followed through on his campaign promise and vetoed provisions in the capital budget that would set aside money for the arena.
He was right to do that. It was what he promised the voters, and it was a fiscally responsible decision based on the fact that the city doesn’t have any partners for the arena.
However, that is not the end of the story. On Tuesday, the City Council is set to reconvene and see if it has enough votes to override Mason’s veto.
Because there are no private partnerships in place and the city has not yet met its self-imposed 10 conditions to move forward, the City Council should respect Mason’s veto and not override it.
If the aldermen do feel the need to go forward, then at the bare minimum they should take it to the public: When municipal elections are held in April, the city should hold a referendum to directly ask the people if they want to help fund an arena.
It’s the taxpayers who would be paying for the arena. They should have a say in whether this goes forward, just as Racine Unified School District residents were asked to weigh in when the district proposed to built new schools.