New Badger basketball arena will be named for him
en. Herb Kohl's $25 million gift Saturday toward construction of a new University of Wisconsin basketball arena was another "thank you" by an immigrant grocer's son to the state that brought his family luck and fortune.
"This is a great state and I feel just marvelous about the life it has given me," said Kohl, D-Wis., owner of the Milwaukee Bucks professional basketball team and one of the wealthiest members of the U.S. Senate.
Kohl, 60, at a Madison news conference announcing the gift, said he wanted to give the entire state something in return for everything he had achieved as a Wisconsin native.
UW officials said his donation, the largest gift the UW has ever received, is crucial to building a $72 million arena to replace the aging Fieldhouse on the university's flagship Madison campus.
The announcement came a day after Dick Bennett was hired to coach the Big Ten Wisconsin Badgers.
Kohl, who attended UW-Madison in the 1950s, applauded the former UW-Green Bay coach's hiring and said he would excel at developing new talent.
"I think he's a great coach," Kohl said. "He has the ability to get the most out of his young men."
Kohl said he hadn't spoken with Bennett and didn't know whether Bennett knew of the boost to the program he was inheriting.
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"I think facilities make a difference," Kohl said. "I think it will help recruiting."
Kohl said he would offer input into the design of the new arena, which would be more modern than the Bradley Center, where the Bucks play at Milwaukee.
Earlier in the week, the state Building Commission approved borrowing $27 million for the new arena, assuming the UW could raise the remaining $45 million through private donations.
Raising the remaining $20 million for the arena will be a formidable task, but without Kohl's gift, the project might never have gotten off the ground, UW athletic director Pat Richter said.
Although primarily a basketball arena, the new facility will be designed to accommodate ice hockey when the UW's contract with the Dane County Coliseum expires, concerts, graduation ceremonies and other events. It will seat about 18,000, considerably larger than both the Fieldhouse or the Coliseum.
Kohl bought the Bucks 10 years ago, when there were rumblings that the team would leave Milwaukee. A day later, Jane and Lloyd Pettit announced the gift that made construction of the Bradley Center possible.
"That was like a gift from heaven," Kohl said.
Richter offered Kohl a date for a Bucks exhibition game in the new arena, but joked that he would probably have to charge rent.
"I'm not asking for free rent out of it, but what I am asking for is Sam Okey," Kohl said.
Okey, a top recruit from Cassville, signed a letter of intent to play at Wisconsin, but his status has been in doubt during the turmoil surrounding the UW coaching job.
UW officials said the new arena will be named for Kohl, whose family grocery store mushroomed into a statewide supermarket chain.
Kohl, though, still eats breakfast at a neighborhood lunch counter when he's in Milwaukee and often says serving in the Senate is the greatest privilege he could imagine.
Campaigning on the theme "No-
body's senator but yours," he won re-election by a wide margin on the Democratic ticket last November. He spent $6 million of his own money on his campaign.