The Milwaukee Bucks celebrate the opening of their new practice facility Thursday, a key moment for both the renaissance of the team and downtown Milwaukee.
The building carries a long name — the Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Sports Science Center — and a simple message: the Milwaukee Bucks have arrived in downtown Milwaukee.
And they're doing it in a top-shelf, high tech fashion — a $31 million building that's a science and sports performance lab and training center surrounded by an astonishing array of amenities to make the players feel at home. The Bucks paid for the building privately.
"I believe this is a real weapon to recruit players," said Mike Fascitelli, a New York real estate executive who's part of the Bucks ownership group. "We wanted it to be very state of the art, very futuristic."
He added: "We paid attention to every detail. We designed it from the outside in."
The facility is the first to be opened by the Bucks' new ownership team, which believes it satisfies the twin goals of building a championship team and improving the community.
It's not just the Bucks who will be calling downtown home after three decades of practicing at the Cousins Center in St. Francis. The practice facility at N. 6th St. and W. Juneau Ave. comes with a companion just to the north, a Froedtert medical clinic that will open to the public later in the fall.
"All of this is a huge investment and vote of confidence in the community," Fascitelli said.
The practice facility opens a year before the Bucks' new $524 million arena, the enormous structure that's half completed just across N. 6th St. Taxpayers are paying $250 million for the arena.
The two structures couldn't be more different in size and design. The swooping arena is intended to pulsate with the energy of thousands of screaming fans decked out in Giannis Antetokounmpo jerseys. The practice facility feels clinical, academic and techie.
"NBA athletes are trained by nerds in white lab coats," said Greg Uhen, of CEO of Eppstein Uhen Architects, the lead designers on the project.
"It's designed for training, innovation and invention too," he said.
"We wanted it to be somewhat of a quieter building than the arena, yet have some of the same touches, such as zinc cladding," Uhen said. "We also really wanted it to be an urban building."
The site presented a challenge because it's on a 60-foot hill. Designers tucked the building into the slope, and that allowed the creation of a player's parking garage, a gleaming epoxy-floored, charging station-equipped "bat cave," as team president Peter Feigin described it.
"It's the coolest underground parking in Milwaukee," he said.
Unlike the arena, the training facility is largely closed to the public. There are some spaces available for events, but the interior design and features are aimed at the athletes, their coaches and trainers.
The Bucks toured other NBA facilities around the country and got input from players such as Jabari Parker and coach Jason Kidd, Feigin said.
"A bunch of the players have already been in here and they've been blown away," he said.
Panoramic views of the two basketball courts and training areas abound, along with gathering areas for the team for both meetings and eating at a long harvest table.
Feigin called it a "sanctuary" for the players and during a tour the amenities popped up at every turn. In the weight room, there's a wall mounted iPad displaying players' images and favorite tunes ready to roll. In the lounge, leather sofas are so oversized that an average person's feet dangle above the floor. A barber's chair from Gee's Clippers is around the corner from the lockers, which are more like finely crafted cabinets.
Yet for all the thought put into maximizing athletic and mental performance, there's a clever tie-in with the downtown neighborhood. Soon, students at MATC might see Parker and Tony Snell and other players hanging out on a patio tucked into the southeast corner of the new building.
"We built this to be part of the neighborhood," Feigin said.
The $10 million Froedtert clinic will form an important bridge between the Bucks and the surrounding community, said the health system's CEO and president Catherine Jacobson.
Froedtert paid an undisclosed amount to the Bucks for the naming rights to the practice facility. The discussion with the Bucks "went quickly from a sponsorship to what could we do for the community," she said.
"It was one conversation with Peter Feigin about who the Bucks are and what they're trying to do" that led to the partnership, Jacobson said.
The clinic will offer primary care, orthopedic services, sports medicine, physical therapy along with imaging and laboratory services.
"That's our first presence in the heart of the city and a great opportunity for us," Jacobson said, adding that the project fit nicely with the health system's goals as a non-profit.
Jacobson said she was impressed by the depth of the commitment to the community shown by the Bucks owners.
"They want to make a positive impact on Milwaukee," she said. "These guys mean it."
James B. Nelson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel