The New Brew City

Peter Feigin and the Milwaukee Bucks organization are reinvigorating an NBA franchise. They’re also spearheading a new project that will catalyze the future of the city.

On the sixth floor of the Milwaukee Bucks administrative center, located among various retired jerseys and other pieces of priceless memorabilia, hangs the team’s 1971 NBA championship banner. Minimalist in style and complete with the Bucks’ original, more whimsical logo, the banner serves as a reminder of the legends donned in green who put Brew City on the map. The likes of Oscar Robertson, Bob Dandridge, Jon McGlocklin, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar not only encapsulate the championship banner and the history of the Milwaukee Bucks, but also the game of basketball itself—a legacy that echoes throughout the administrative center, stadium, and city.

That 1971 championship banner was proudly displayed in the rafters of The Mecca Arena, which was home to the Bucks from 1968 to 1988. Less than a mile away from the administrative center, the team now hosts their games at BMO Harris Bradley Center. But that won’t be the case for long.

Right next door to the current stadium, the Milwaukee Bucks are in the midst of constructing a new arena that will not only serve as a new home for the team, but also as a centerpiece for economic growth in the city of Milwaukee. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” says Peter Feigin, president of the Milwaukee Bucks.

As Feigin explains, the Bucks organization was able to acquire 30 acres of land in downtown Milwaukee that will soon serve as a multi-purpose arena to anchor a world-class sports and entertainment district.

“For us, it’s asking, ‘How do we really become a catalyst for economic development in the city of Milwaukee?’ It’s way beyond owning and operating an NBA basketball team. It’s how to change behavior. It’s how to become a gathering place, how to create a neighborhood, create population density, and create an exciting destination,” Feigin explains.

It’s late March, and Feigin, wearing his green Milwaukee Bucks hoodie, has plenty to look forward to. Construction on the new stadium and entertainment district is well underway, and that night, the Bucks have a chance to move into fifth place in the NBA Eastern Conference with a win over the Atlanta Hawks (they won later that night). It’s more than evident that a tangible excitement for the team has returned to the city of Milwaukee. While the court play of Abdul-Jabbar and Bob Lanier will never be forgotten, new talent and up-and-coming stars such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, and Jabari Parker are ushering in a new generation of fans.

This isn’t just because of strong managerial decisions for the team, but also a new way of thinking that has transcended the Bucks organization. After joining the team in October 2016, Feigin says the organization adopted a mind-set of being a start-up business.

“I think it aligns with our owner’s expectation to become a world-class, championship-caliber team on the court and off the court,” Feigin says about this business mentality. “It speaks to how we really build organizational structure and process—everything from having goals and objectives for how to get there. We were really able to start from scratch with a blank slate and build this business from the ground up.”

Seeing as Feigin’s responsibilities include day-to-day operations, strategy, and development, the new stadium and entertainment district will be one of his largest projects to date. After breaking ground in June 2016, the new arena is scheduled to open in October 2018, featuring a “neighborhood” activated by sports and entertainment uses. As a cornerstone of downtown Milwaukee, the 714,000-square-foot arena will boast glass paneling, open and transparent concourses, and the flexibility to host a variety of events, including other sports, concerts, open-floor exhibitions, and special occasions.

“It’s about open concourses,” Feigin says. “It’s about localized food. It’s about unbelievable service. It’s about very cool and customized event spaces. It really offers something that, at least in the state of Wisconsin, doesn’t exist.”

Feigin continues that the plaza outside of the stadium will also feature events and amenities such as an ice rink, a farmer’s market, and various sports tournaments.

“Think of the arena as the big venue and the plaza as a smaller venue,” he explains. “How do you activate each of them in different ways? How do you use both as an asset for the community and leverage them in powerful ways? You’d probably have community celebrations. You’d have farmer’s markets in the plaza, whereas you might have Elton John in the arena.”

The organization is also eyeing what the district will mean for the city itself. Feigin says it will serve as a centerpiece for attracting employers, activating the downtown, increasing residential growth, and improving employment ratings. “We want to create living wages, family-supporting jobs for people,” he says. “We have an opportunity to recruit, train, and employ thousands of local workers for construction and eventually permanent jobs. It really will have a big impact on the existing job market and our community.”

While the construction will result in a state-of-the-art arena and become a landmark destination for the city, Feigin and the Bucks organization stress that these innovations are done while remaining true to the heart of the Brew City. Founded with a spirit for innovation, good food, and historic breweries such as Miller, Schlitz, and Pabst, the new stadium will not venture from this same rich tradition. Even the banner featuring Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jabari Parker outside the administrative center is displayed proudly next to the Schlitz Park emblem.

“For us, it’s about really being authentic,” Feigin says. “It’s being localized. It’s understanding and being true to the sensibility of Milwaukee. This is a market that does not want this to become L.A. Live.”

From joining the Bucks to helping oversee this major project, Feigin says it’s unlike any other personal experience, and he credits the owner’s vision for such a signature milestone.

Feigin doesn’t have the typical pedigree of an architect or construction manager. He began his career in professional sales and marketing focused on sports and entertainment. But what he’s building is an experience—one that will change the landscape of the city he loves in order to bring a community together and create lifelong memories. “This a lifetime event that changes the course of a US city, which you don’t really get a chance to be a part of too often,” he says. “This is transformational. We’ve done a lot of things that have been done in other businesses. We’ve doubled our staff. We looked at different ways of doing business we want to create. But at the end of the day, we will have created something extremely substantial, something unlike anything that’s existed before that will affect the entire community for 100 years. It’s an enormous and exciting opportunity.”