MILWAUKEE — The Milwaukee Bucks had yet to go through the formalities of breaking ground on their downtown arena when co-owner Jamie Dinan wondered what else might be in store: Maybe another celebration in a few years.
"We're going to bring Milwaukee a championship it so truly deserves, and we're really, really looking forward to fulfilling that promise as well," Dinan said Saturday to hearty applause.
The Bucks, who finished last in their division, hope they're on to better things.
The phrase "Build the Future" was on scaffolding above the stage. Nearby, Gov. Scott Walker and other dignitaries would soon gather on a sunny day to move scoops of dirt and gravel with ceremonial shovels. Former Bucks, including Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson, and Marques Johnson were also on hand.
It was the culmination of nearly two years of lobbying and work after Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens headlined an ownership group that bought the team from former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl. The Bucks were sold on condition the new owners keep the team in Milwaukee.
The project is expected to cost about $524 million and be completed for start of the 2018-19 season. A public financing plan covered $250 million toward arena construction. The Bucks' current and former owners have already committed $250 million and are expected to cover the additional costs and any cost overruns.
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"I don't know if we'll ever have a day quite like this. Timewise, it's kind of halftime. We started this 2 1/2 years ago, and we have another 2 1/2 years to go," Edens said. "But it's a great time to pause and celebrate."
Team and municipal officials also see the project as a way to spur downtown development. The arena will be built on what was a parking lot across the street from the Bucks' current home, the Bradley Center.
On the court, the franchise is two years into a rebuilding project under coach Jason Kidd. The Bucks took a step back last season after a surprise run of 41 wins in 2014-15. But there are bright spots in Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.
Parker wants to close the Bradley Center era with two strong years. When asked if a new arena might help keep or lure players to Milwaukee, he said: "The teams in the past (didn't) look forward to coming to the Bradley Center ... but I think our arena is going to be more welcoming like the Barclays (Center in Brooklyn) or new arenas being built."
Kohl was lauded for his efforts to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee. Thirty years ago, ground was broken on the Bradley Center, which was built entirely with private funding.
"I would like to express my appreciation to (current) Bucks ownership for many things, not the least of which is their promise of an NBA championship in the next few years," said Kohl, drawing laughs. "As a former Bucks owner, I know how easy that is to do."