D is for development

Bucks D-League franchise spurs development opportunities for New North cities

Posted on Aug 31, 2016 :: Up Front
Sean P. Johnson
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

There’s a lot more development involved in the NBA’s D-League than giving young players a chance to get better.

For a pair of cities in the New North region vying to host the Milwaukee Bucks’ proposed minor-league basketball team — expected to tip-off in 2017 — a D-League franchise has sparked multi-million-dollar development proposals that could also create additional sports, entertainment and tourism opportunities.

Sports — even the minor leagues — are a very big business.

“The real benefit here is not just pro basketball,” says Gregory Pierce, president and CIO of Windward Wealth Strategies, Inc., who is heading up the effort to lure the Bucks developmental league team to Oshkosh. “It’s the other 300 days the arena is available. We know there are events we can host here that we currently don’t have a facility for. This can provide a lot of other uses.”

It’s not just an opportunity for additional events that has folks excited.

In Sheboygan, one of the other cities vying for the team, economic development professionals see plans for the team there — namely a renovation of the city’s dormant Armory — as a booster to residential and commercial development plans already in the works.

“The Armory is a key redevelopment site between the Sheboygan Marina and downtown Sheboygan,” says Dane Checolinski, executive director of the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp. “Having the Armory site used for a professional basketball team would complement the $30-plus million multi-family housing development occurring in downtown Sheboygan and nearly $70 million in apartments being developed around the county as a unique quality of life amenity.”

One of just eight NBA teams without its own D-League affiliate, the Bucks recently announced plans to add a team for the 2017 season. Not only will having a D-League team help the Bucks with talent development, but the team also sees it as an opportunity to expand the Bucks brand outside of Milwaukee, a point of emphasis of the ownership group.

Five municipalities — including three in the New North region — responded to the team’s request for proposals earlier this year: Grand Chute, La Crosse, Oshkosh, Racine and Sheboygan. La Crosse was eliminated as being too far from the Bucks Milwaukee base, and Grand Chute’s response was more a letter of interest than a full-fledge response.

That leaves Sheboygan, Oshkosh and Racine in the running for a decision expected sometime in September, giving the selected city about a year to get both its operations and facilities in order.

The Sheboygan effort, led by Joe Wolf, a former Bucks player and assistant coach, came out of the gate aggressively even before RFPs were submitted, launching a website, Facebook page and publicity effort to gather traction for its proposal.

Wolf heads up the Lakefront Jewel Group, which has proposed the renovation of the Sheboygan Armory into a privately funded, 2,500-plus seat multi-use facility. In addition to the basketball arena, the refurbished Armory would include a restaurant and bar that would be open daily. The remodel also would enable the facility to host large-scale events such as youth sports tournaments, trade shows, concerts and community events.

Checolinski says the Bucks D-League team would fit well with the other tourism and sports related infrastructure the community has built to support events such as PGA golf tournaments, NASCAR and championship sailing.

“Sheboygan County is used to hosting world-class, professional events,” he says. “The quality of our tourism amenities will only raise the bar and expectations for NBA D-League teams.”

In Oshkosh, Pierce and his group of investors are proposing a $12 million to $14 million, 3,500-seat, privately financed arena, either along the Interstate 41 corridor or the central city. In addition to the Bucks, they also see it as a year-round venue for youth sports and tournaments, conventions, concerts and other events.

Both groups say projecting the economic impact of the new facilities is difficult because of all the unknowns about potential uses. However, what is known is that the team will host 24 home games and the average attendance around the league is about 3,000 per game.  Throw in additional spending for food and beverage and the potential impact rapidly escalates.

Pierce and his group of investors, Fox Valley Pro Basketball, have nearly 1,000 commitments lined up for season tickets. They, too, have launched a web and Facebook campaign to raise awareness and highlight the effort to lure the Bucks in.

Both cities are outside of the Milwaukee media market, yet within easy driving distance of the Bucks coaches and administrative staff. Both would also be among the smallest cities to host a D-League team and would need to draw from across the region to be successful.

Pierce says the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers have proven minor league sports can be a region-wide draw.

“We know people come to Oshkosh for events and this is a region that supports its sports teams,” Pierce says. “It really fits Oshkosh well.