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Bucks-Raptors playoff series
You don't need tickets to enjoy the Bucks' playoff run

MILWAUKEE — There were thousands of fans outside Fiserv Forum Wednesday night who didn’t have tickets to the basketball game happening inside. But they all watched the game as the Bucks won the first game of the Eastern Conference Championship series against the Toronto Raptors, 108-100.

The environment outside the Fiserv didn’t bear much resemblance to what had gone on outside the Bradley Center, now a shell of its former self just a few feet south of the Fiserv. Even when the Bucks made it to the playoffs during the Bradley’s lifespan (1988-2018), there wasn’t too much going on in the surrounding block. Spots like Major Goolsby’s, which opened in 1972, still drew a sports bar crowd, but the outdoor space wasn’t particularly utilized.

It is now.

In photos: Deer District brings fun, drinks, all ages to Fiserv area on game night

Basketball revival

“It’s going to be an all-day party,” David Dupee, a co-founder of Good City Brewing, said Wednesday afternoon.

Good City, located just outside the Fiserv, had a nearly inexhaustible queue of people outside ordering beer throughout the game.

Many of them carried their drinks into the main plaza. Those same patrons raised their glasses in a deafening cheer when Hall of Famers Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley walked onto the outdoor stage to present the pregame analysis for TNT.

Deer District — the name for the area surrounding the arena — has been a long-planned dream come true for the Bucks organization and a gift for Milwaukee-area fans. Even before the Fiserv got its name, there were plans for open-air restaurants, a central plaza, bars, shopping, apartments — a primo nexus of energetic nightlife.

The centerpiece of the Deer District is the Bucks’ Live Block (also known as the Fiserv Forum Entertainment Center), which is headlined by five venues:

  • Good City Brewing, a Milwaukee-based craft brewer with another location farther north;
  • Punch Bowl Social, essentially a hipster sports fan’s Dave & Buster’s;
  • Drink Wisconsinbly Pub, a well-established brand based upon Wisconsin love;
  • MECCA Sports Bar and Grill, which opened earlier this month; and
  • The Beer Garden, an open-air biergarten.

Brogdon makes welcome return

MILWAUKEE — Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer had one message to guard Malcolm Brogdon before the game. And that was, “Go out and play.”

At least 750 people sat and stood for over two hours, transfixed by the 28-foot-wide TV screen at the open-air Beer Garden as the game went on.

“This is really a catalyst for Downtown Milwaukee, so being a part of it was a no-brainer,” Dupee said. “The Fiserv is the draw. It was a blank canvas. There was really nothing in that part of Downtown for so long. The Fiserv is the magnet, and the Bucks’ vision is to use businesses like ours to give folks a total experience.”

Balmy evening

During the opening months of the NBA season, which tips off in October, The Beer Garden will likely face weather issues.

But on Wednesday night, it was a balmy 60 degrees, and there was nary a shiver among the championship-hungry supporters who watched superstar Giannis “Greek Freak” Antetokounmpo battle Raptors star Kawhi Leonard. While watching pregame coverage, the outdoor fans roared whenever Antetokounmpo was shown. Leonard was always met with a flurry of “boos.”

And Punch Bowl Social — with its 30 TVs, bowling lanes, shuffleboard and cornhole game— stayed busy too.

“It’s really incredible,” Katherine Foley, who works for Punch Bowl Social, said of Deer District’s atmosphere. “It’s a living room for Milwaukee; we wanted to be a part of that.” brags of plans to become a “365-day destination” where Milwaukee can “live, work AND play.” Although many of the parcels have already been filled, there’s still room for leasing in a planned 240,000-square-foot office complex to the north of the stadium, and another three potential retail spaces around the 30-acre urban center.

If Deer District stays this busy, it will likely be heralded as a masterpiece of urban planning. However, critics have been raising their hands since day one because of the taxpayer contributions to the project. For the $524 million stadium alone, taxpayers accounted for about $250 million.

Basketball fans haven’t seemed too bothered throughout the season.

The Bucks have been the winningest team in the NBA in 2018-19. They’ve been repaid with top-notch attendance, averaging 101.5% capacity over 41 home games, good enough for second in the league.

Tom Markowski, a high school teacher in Milwaukee, said that Game 1 was the first home game of the season he didn’t watch from inside the stadium. Markowski has season tickets but gave Wednesday’s to a friend so he could enjoy the outdoor atmosphere. He found a patio within view of The Beer Garden’s screen and didn’t plan to move for the entire game.

“This year has always been about the experience for me,” Markowski said. “And I never got to experience a game outside.”

Nicole Khail, who grew up in Raymond but now lives in Madison, had no idea about the nightlife around the stadium until her husband told her about it before going to a game. They got dinner at Punch Bowl and wandered over to Good City for a drink before heading into the game.

Natalie Hayden’s daughter is a huge Antetokounmpo fan, but Hayden had work to do Wednesday night. So, Hayden brought her daughter and her laptop to the plaza. She worked on her laptop while her daughter watched the game.

“We’re here to be in celebration with the city,” Hayden said. “Our city is being so amazing right now. And being outside is better than being inside.”

All good in the neighborhood

Despite the newfound competition from fresh restaurants, the advent of the Fiserv has been good for established businesses such as Major Goolsby’s, about two blocks south of the Fiserv, which is still reaping the harvest.

“We’re in such a great spot,” said Marty Petricca, who has worked at Goolsby’s for nearly 20 years. “Even if they are bringing in more restaurants, that’s more people that are going to be in the area. … If they have 15,000 inside the arena and another couple thousand outside, they’ll spread around that couple-block radius. And obviously we’re within that.”

After the party

Even after the basketball season ends, regardless of whether the Bucks win their first rings since ’71, the Forum will be far from empty. It has already hosted concerts for the likes of Metallica and the Eagles, and Carrie Underwood and Elton John are planning stops there later this year. There will be around 50 concerts and other special events in the Fiserv in 2019, twice that of even the busiest of the Bradley Center’s seasons.

In July 2020, the Democratic National Convention will fill the Fiserv, another example of the arena’s versatility, not to mention the fresh marketability it brings to southeastern Wisconsin.

And then there are also nonbasketball-related events too, like free fitness classes and outdoor movie nights that started being held there earlier this month. There’s also the Bloody Mary Festival scheduled for this June, an art fair in August, Oktoberfest in the fall, the pre-holiday celebration Christkindlmarket in winter and “The Bachelorette” watch parties throughout the summer.

Matt Troha, a Kenoshan with season tickets known for wearing Mardi Gras-inspired masks and a shimmering red wig, wandered around the district before the game, passing out green bead necklaces to kids and spreading Bucks love.

“This,” Troha said as other fans elbowed past, “is a lot of people.”

In photos: Deer District brings fun, drinks, all ages to Fiserv area on game night

Site to be redeveloped
Racine YMCA building to close, plans to lease space Downtown

RACINE — It’s the end of an era for the lakefront branch of the Racine Family YMCA — at least for now.

On Wednesday, YMCA CEO Jeff Collen shared a letter sent to members on April 30 which announced that the YMCA agreed in principle to sell the lakefront building, 725 Lake Ave., “with the goal that we can be built back into the new building.”

However, the YMCA will still provide a Downtown place for members to exercise. In the letter, Collen stated that the Y has decided to lease space in Downtown at 141 Main St., which will be called the Riverside Branch, to continue health and fitness programs there when the lakefront branch closes at the end of June.

“We will maintain this lease agreement until we are able to finalize the future of our plans Downtown,” Collen wrote.

He said the official decision to close the Downtown YMCA came shortly after its board meeting in February.

“We’re excited we’ll be in a new space that we’ll lease Downtown so we’ll be able to continue to serve our members, continue to serve the Downtown community in that new small health and wellness space,” Collen said. “So it’s not like we’re abandoning anything, we’re still Downtown, we’re there for people.”

The letter also states that members are welcome to visit the Sealed Air Branch, 8501 Campus Drive, in Mount Pleasant, which has a full facility with a gym; running track; wellness center; aerobic, spin and yoga studios; swimming pools; a hot tub and steam room.

“While these decisions are never easy, the primary goal of the YMCA has always been to ensure that we have a continued presence in Downtown Racine,” the letter reads. “Though our current Downtown building has served us well over the years, the building’s systems are too costly to repair which led us to the decision to discontinue operating it at the end of June and to sell the building and try to work to create a new and more modern facility.”

Redevelopment project

The building site is to be developed by West Allis-based Cardinal Capital Management and Kenosha-based LandQuest working together. They would raze the old YMCA there, build a new one and lease it back to the YMCA, along with likely building some housing with the project.

The sale has not yet closed, and Collen said the firms are still working out the details.

Those are the same two developers working to build two adjacent housing projects on the former Ajax industrial site in Uptown.

Mick Burke / Journal Times file photo 

Cardinal Capital Management has an agreement with the  Racine Family YMCA to buy and raze the Downtown Y at 725 Lake Ave. Cardinal will then redevelop the site including a new YMCA there, and likely build new housing as part of the project.

Dickert tapped to serve with the state Department of Revenue

MADISON — Former Racine Mayor John Dickert is returning to public service, this time as Division of State and Local Finance administrator under Peter Barca, secretary-designee for the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.

Barca’s office made the announcement about the appointment on Wednesday, and Dickert’s role will be effective Monday. He is currently president and CEO of the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

Barca said his decision to appoint Dickert was based on his time as a three-term mayor of Racine, “along with his experience in residential and commercial real estate provides him with a unique perspective for this position.

“His keen understanding of local government and the issues facing local government officials will help us to better serve their needs and, more importantly, their citizens,” Barca said. “With more than 30 years in both the public and private sectors, John’s broad-based executive and managerial experience will be of great value to our department. Some of the most effective administrators of the State and Local Finance Division were former mayors.”

Dickert said he will begin transitioning into his position in Madison now but will remain in his position with the Great Lakes Initiative until its annual conference, which takes place June 3-7.

“The transition starts now and we’ll probably finish everything up in June,” Dickert said.

Helped with transition

After Tony Evers was elected governor in November, Dickert said he helped with the transition period before Evers was sworn into office.

Dickert said the Evers Administration approached him about the Department of Revenue position and he accepted.

“It’s an exciting opportunity to go work for the administration,” Dickert said. “(Evers) has, obviously, some great priorities and a great agenda, and I’m very much looking forward to it.”

He added, “I will say it’s very difficult, obviously, to leave my colleagues and my friends in the (Great Lakes Initiative) organization, because it’s an unbelievable organization.”

Dickert said it will also be good to work closer to his family.

He was elected mayor of Racine in 2009 in a special election and re-elected in 2011 and 2015. He resigned in 2017 when he became president and CEO of the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

When Barca served in Congress representing Wisconsin’s 1st District from 1993-95, Dickert served as his district director.