MILWAUKEE — As he toured the construction site that will become home to Giannis Antetokounmpo in 2018, the president of the Milwaukee Bucks posed an array of questions.
"How do we make the highest seats the most valuable?" Peter Feigin asked.
Referring to a sleek "Panorama Club" that aims to attract younger ticketholders, he remarked: "How do we make it a destination that is cool, not stodgy?"
Going big-picture and revealing his boldness, Feigin said: "How do we redefine entertainment? How do we have a championship NBA team? But more: How do we make this a vibrant, diverse downtown, which cities need to flourish?"
The questions did not stop there.
Nor does Feigin's ambition.
The Bucks, you see, long to do more than revitalize their home city of 600,000. They don't simply want to attract Badgers fans from Madison, Cheeseheads from Green Bay and ice fishers from Oshkosh.
"How do we let Illinois residents," Feigin wondered, "know we have a world-class arena?"
Are you listening, Chicago?
Yes, we love your fried cheese curds, your brats, your brewery tours, your Summerfest and your cheap, coin-operated, metered parking. Some of us have set sail in your (and our) lake, enjoyed the climate-controlled confines under your Miller Park roof, toured your Art Museum and ridden one of your Harley-Davidsons.
But how many of us have crossed the border to watch a Bucks game not involving the Bulls? Is such a thing conceivable?
Seems like a stretch until you consider:
— Time: On a recent late afternoon, the trafficologists at Google Maps estimated that it would take 1 hour and 18 minutes to drive the 31.2 miles from Lake Forest to the United Center. The 63.4-mile jaunt to Milwaukee could be covered in 1:06. So if you live in Libertyville or Mundelein or Fox Lake or Waukegan .
— Cost: NBA arenas have numerous price points that vary based on location and season- versus single-game tickets, but suffice to say you'll pay less than you would at the United Center, which has the NBA's fifth-highest average ticket. Senior Vice President of Communications Barry Baum says that half of the Bucks' tickets will be $50 or less.
— The 'tank' factor: After dealing Jimmy Butler, Bulls' fans are thinking about Ping-Pong balls. The Bucks are thinking big. They have a second-team All-NBA Greek god in Antetokounmpo, whose long-term, team-friendly deal points the team's arrow up. And Simeon alum Jabari Parker, on the mend after a second ACL tear, gives the Bucks as many native Chicagoans as the Bulls (Dwyane Wade).
"The Bulls have a rich history," Parker said by telephone. "It will take time (to lure their fans). But we finished on a high last season (16-7 before a playoff series loss to the Raptors). And with the new arena ... "
— The new home: The Bucks' yet-to-be-named $524 million arena, being constructed just north of the Bradley Center, will have a basketball capacity of 17,500 — with a whopping 10,000 seats in the lower bowl.
"Even at the top, it's an unbelievable seat because of the pitch," Feigin says. "At the Bradley Center, you're a mile from the court. Or the United Center, which is tremendously large. This will be an unbelievable showcase for basketball and even better for entertainment."
Food and furnishings will be top-notch, Feigin promises, with loft spaces for drinking, dining and socializing.
"It will feel like an open-air arena," Feigin says during the 40-minute tour. "When people leave their seat, they still want to watch and feel the game. We will have authentic food, great service. And anchor bars on every corner."
The exterior design is dramatic, featuring glass and a curved, sloping roof. The 30-acre parcel will contain a plaza for outdoor concerts and festivals, not unlike the new "Park at Wrigley Field."
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Feigin and the Bucks' design team borrowed the best ideas from NBA arenas around the country . the modern exterior in Orlando, the localism and authenticity in Portland, the fan activation outside the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
And Madison Square Garden, which underwent what Feigin calls "the greatest renovation in the history of renovations."
The New York City native is a little biased. Feigin, 47, was the Knicks' director of marketing from 1998-2004. After that he was president at Marquis Jet Partners, working with Kenny Dichter, whom Wisconsin athletic director Barry Alvarez describes as "like my adopted son."
"Peter is one of Kenny's classic guys — a hustler, smart and aggressive, a go-getter," Alvarez says.
Told that Feigin toured the construction site wearing a sweatshirt, Alvarez chuckled.
"That's (like) Kenny," Alvarez says. "Everybody is in a suit and tie and he's in a warmup suit."
Beyond the connection to Dichter, Alvarez is pulling hard for Feigin to thrive.
Downtown Milwaukee, Alvarez says, "needs a shot, some revitalization. And I think this could do it."
In March the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported on "the remaking of downtown Milwaukee ... an extraordinary building boom" with projects totaling $1.4 billion.
The teardown of the Bradley Center by early 2019 will clear more space. The MECCA, renamed the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena in 2014, will remain — and host one 2017-18 game as the Bucks pay homage to their 50th season in the NBA.
The new $524 million arena will host the Bucks, Marquette hoops and a slew of concerts as part of Bucks management's goal to "re-invent an NBA team and re-build a city," as Feigin put it.
Last fall he spoke of Milwaukee in stark terms during a speech to the Rotary Club of Madison. As quoted by the Wisconsin State Journal, Feigin said: "Very bluntly, Milwaukee is the most segregated, racist place I've ever experienced in my life ... It is antiquated. It is in desperate need of repair."
Asked about the comment during the arena tour, Feigin said: "It has been a catalyst for a lot of conversation, which is terrific. It raises the awareness . Milwaukee, like every city in the country, has issues to deal with."
Not every city is willing to acknowledge its issues, let alone address them.
Buoyed by a mayor, Tom Barrett, who reportedly told Feigin, "I'm happy that you're engaged in trying to improve our community," the Bucks committed to protect workers' ability to unionize, to pay them at least $15 an hour by 2023 and to hire from Milwaukee's highest poverty neighborhoods.
"We have unbelievable opportunities to enhance wellness, to enhance education, to use an NBA brand to make dramatic changes," Feigin said. "On the macro level, we are putting billions of dollars into a city to help accelerate the growth and create a vibrant, diverse downtown."
Feigin insisted that his tour include the Bucks' days-old training facility, steps from the new arena, called the Sports Science Center. With every conceivable recovery advancement (hydrotherapy, cryotherapy), 46-inch high bathroom counters, modified sneaker storage for size-18s and a barber shop themed after a famous one in Milwaukee, the team will use this as a recruiting tool for free agents.
The tour ended in a model for an elegant, spacious luxury suite. The area will have just 34 of these, and 29 already are sold at season prices ranging from $225,000 to $325,000.
"We went through thousands of suites (in other arenas) and asked ourselves: How can we make these attractive and inviting?" Feigin said. "Instead of a sink, why not have drain tubs large enough for ice where you can stick beer bottles? How can we best service them with food?"
The man asks a lot of questions.