MILWAUKEE If the Bucks NBA franchise wants to stay in Milwaukee, a new arena is needed. And soon.
Sen. Herb Kohl, who has owned the team since 1985, has increased the urgency recently to get it done sooner than later.
"We want to stay in the NBA (but) in order for that to continue, we have to have a new facility," Kohl said Friday. "There isn't anybody that doesn't recognize that and understands that it has to happen. We're no longer talking about it in terms of 'At some point in the future.' We're talking about beginning to make plans to get it done."
The Bucks currently play their home games at the Bradley Center, which opened in 1988 and is one of the NBA's oldest arenas. For now, Sen. Kohl's plan is to sign a "relatively short-term extension" with the Bradley Center while he works toward plans to replace it.
"We are actively working on it and we'll get into high gear, I hope soon, on trying to accomplish our goal," Kohl said.
A member of the U.S. Senate since 1988, Kohl previously had worked for his family-owned business, of which he was the heir. From that, Kohl is one of the wealthiest U.S. Senators with an estimated net worth of more than 250 million. Though he said he will "at some time" make a personal financial commitment toward building a new arena, he can't do it alone.
"The thing that we have determined to this point is it's no longer a topic of conversation, it needs to be activated," Kohl said. "I believe that, recognizing how hard it is to get financing for any kind of a sports facility in America today, nevertheless I believe we're going to have a shot at getting it done.
"The maximum effort will be put forth, not just by the Bucks, because we couldn't get it done alone, but by the business sector and the private sector and hopefully everyone recognizing it's not a wish thing, it's a must thing in order for us to continue as a member of the NBA. This needs to be a broad, broad coalition. It can't be just the Milwaukee Bucks.
"It won't happen easily. It will take a lot of work, but I think we have a good shot at getting it done. It won't be for lack of effort."
The Sacramento Kings are going through a relatively similar situation currently, where the team may be in jeopardy of being moved if a new arena cannot be funded.
"We hope not to replicate some of the difficulties they've had in getting a new facility," Kohl said. "We'll see how it turns out. The league is cooperating with us. They are happy to see that we want to make the effort. They support that. They are wanting to see us get it done. I think that's good and sufficient. They don't oppose our desire and wish to make an effort to stay in Milwaukee. I would say that they are supportive of it."
While talking about the franchise's importance to the Milwaukee community and economy, Kohl saw what happened in a city like Seattle, which lost the Sonics to Oklahoma City, then changed their nickname to the Thunder.
"The ones that have lost (a team) have regretted it," Kohl said. "So it's worth the effort (to try to build a new arena and stay in Milwaukee)."
Kohl, who is 77 years old, receives several calls every year from business people interested in potentially purchasing all or part of the team. The closest Kohl came to selling the Bucks was in 2003 when Michael Jordan was interested. But so far, he has resisted selling the franchise.
"I don't know how long I'll own the team," Kohl said. "I know it's not forever. It's important to get it done, and obviously you'd like to get it done as soon as you can, but that's not going to happen today."
There is currently not a deadline from the NBA by which to have a new arena, and Kohl deemed it "inappropriate at this moment" to discuss where the location of the venue could go.
One of the issues that could have an adverse effect on getting financing from the community and local businesses is that attendance has not been great for Bucks games in recent years. The team has only reached the playoffs once in the past six seasons, and that was a first-round exit in 2010.
"If we had one of the big superstars in the league playing in Milwaukee and we were selling it out every night and there was a lot of enthusiasm and energy, as with anything in life, that pushes the ball forward," Kohl said. "But we don't have a superstar here.
"I am hopeful we're going to turn the corner with our basketball team and become a very good team. That's our goal. I don't think we're very far away. We're close.
"The more successful the team is, the easier it is to generate enthusiasm."
The Bucks finished ninth in the Eastern Conference this season, four games out of the playoffs. One of their best players, point guard Brandon Jennings, just finished his third NBA season after being the 10th overall pick by Milwaukee in 2009. Former No. 1 overall pick, center Andrew Bogut, was traded during the season to Golden State in exchange for Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh. Forward Ersan Ilyasova, who was the runner-up this season for the NBA's Most Improved Player award, is now an unrestricted free agent and general manager John Hammond said "it won't be easy to re-sign him."
With the league's 12th-worst record, the Bucks will have a 0.7 percent chance of landing the top pick in this year's draft. If luck falls their way, Kentucky big man Anthony Davis appears to be a franchise-changer, a potential "superstar" that Kohl said the team is currently lacking, and the type of player that would certainly help turn up the energy and enthusiasm needed to keep the Bucks in Milwaukee.
"One of the things we're going to be working on is, where are we going to be 10 to 20 years from now?" Kohl said. "Hopefully it's here."
Follow Paul Imig on Twitter.