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Special Report: Weighing the millions in costs to save the Mitchell Park Domes

They've been a pride and tradition for 50 years.

"I mean they're incredible to look at," said County Executive Chris Abele.

"It's part of our legacy, part of our heritage," said State Sen. Chris Larson.

But the Milwaukee County icon could be nearing its final days.

The aging Mitchell Park Domes hit a closing point after falling concrete posed a danger to the public.

Abele said fixing them could cost up to $75 million. His opponent for county executive, Larson, said it's $45 million.

CBS 58 asked Abele if it's really worth it to save the domes, knowing the money could be use elsewhere in the county?

"It's a good question," he responded.

With $75 million, Abele said the county could add more bus routes and make them cheaper, add more meal programs, senior centers and help the district attorney's office.

"My home run is the most sustainable, serves the most people, provides the most value," he said.

Attendance numbers show 240,179 people visited the Domes in 2015, compared to the Milwaukee County Zoo's 1.4 million visitors. On top of that, the domes operate on a deficit of about $1 million each year.

Abele said it's a reality the public must think about moving forward.

"I know some people are talking about raising sales tax, or property tax," he said. "I'm not in a rush to do that."

"I think our neighbors understand the need to invest long term in our future," Larson said.

That's why Larson is proposing a one percent sales tax increase. He said it will generate $65 million and in turn, lower property taxes.

The money would be used to fix the domes, improve transit and emergency services, but it's not clear how that money would be split.

"In Wisconsin, uniquely, there are so many different things that aren't subject to a sales tax so that people who are struggling, in poverty, they actually get a better deal with the sales tax," he said.

But any sales tax increase has to be approved by the state legislature. Larson said he moved for the change during his tenure in the legislature, but blames election year politics for getting in the way.

"I think this time when I've talked to other republicans and other counties across the state, they're realizing the time is ready to get this additional authority," said Larson. "So I think we can make that happen through the next legislature."

"It seems silly to create any expectation or build a plan on a sales tax when right now, whatever your opinion of it, it's not legal," said Abele.

But no matter how the $45 million or $75 million domes project is paid for, there is one bottom line.

"It's not my money, it's your money," Abele said.

For now, the county has transferred $500,000 to make temporary repairs using a protective wrapping material. Officials are asking the county board to approve another $500,000 transfer to complete all three domes.

The goal is to re-open the show dome by May 1.

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