'We made a good investment': Lawmakers look back on anniversary of Bucks arena funding bill

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- It was just a few years ago the Milwaukee Bucks' future was in limbo after difficult and at times messy negotiations at the State Capitol over a bill to fund a new arena, now known as Fiserv Forum.  

Thursday, July 15, marks the six-year anniversary of the state Senate passing the funding bill (21-10) that relied on taxpayers, the state, local and county governments to chip in to pay for a new arena.  

The package was crucial to keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee, but reaching a deal was challenging. When the NBA said the Bradley Center was unfit, U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, former Bucks owner, proposed building a new arena.  

"It wasn't easy, there was many different parties that had to come together to make this happen," said Herb Kohl during the 2018 grand opening of Fiserv Forum.  

When the arena bill landed on lawmakers' desks, many were hesitant about the proposal, especially due to the burden being put on taxpayers and Milwaukee officials to pay their share. State Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) supported the plan despite several of her colleagues opposing it.  

"We were unable to even get individuals on the county level, let alone the rest of the state, to support the legislation," said Taylor.  

Taylor and other lawmakers who represent the Milwaukee area fought for the state to pay more instead of relying on public funding, but ultimately didn't get what they wanted. 

"The concerns were, are we putting taxpayer dollars in a bad situation by investing in this," said Paul Farrow, former state senator who represented suburban Milwaukee and now serves as the Waukesha County executive.  

The final package would cost taxpayers $70 million and nearly $250 million would come from the state, city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County. Kohl also pitched in $100 million for the arena.  

The bill eventually passed both chambers in 2015 with a mix of Democrats and Republicans supporting or rejecting the plan.  

When looking back, Sen. Taylor said she's glad to have listened to Peter Feigin, the Milwaukee Bucks president, and other officials who aggressively lobbied for a new arena that some never thought would become a reality.  

"I could see the vision of what the Bucks could bring and what the owners saying what they wanted to do," she said. "I appreciate they kept their word to try and create a place like the Deer District that really represents the image of Milwaukee." 

One takeaway Farrow said he learned was the ability to work across the aisle and meet in the same room with both parties, something that rarely happens anymore.  

"There were times both Democrats and Republicans didn't talk to each other, and I think what we had the week leading up to the vote was that we had great conversations," said Farrow. 

While the deal is still paying off, most lawmakers can agree it was worth the investment to see the Bucks in the NBA Finals. 

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