Nothing of note usually happens in downtown Milwaukee on your typical Sunday morning.
Sure, the bars might be coming to life if the Bucks, Admirals, Wave or Marquette are playing an early game but otherwise, the streets are sleepy. That wasn't the case January 13 as demolition crews dropped the roof on what's left of the BMO Harris Bradley Center.
They've been gutting the old gray hulk for weeks now, taking out the building's gutty-works, salvaging and re-purposing a good portion of it, the work happening largely out of sight. The effort went high profile Sunday, thought, as strategically placed charges dropped the arena's lid into the seating bowl so that it can be more safely cut up by workers tasked with getting it off premises.
Each milestone in the demolition process generates fresh rounds of obituaries about the venue and in the end, most conclude that the Bradley Center did a lot during its three decades, but it wasn't the home of a whole lot of happy when it came to raising banners and toasting titles.
Yes, the Wave won a few indoor soccer championships there and the Admirals copped a Calder Cup but that clinching victory happened on the road, not in Milwaukee. The Bucks made a handful of playoff appearances but didn't do much in terms of hanging new laundry in the rafters. Marquette had moments, to be sure, but no one will confuse the BC with the old BG (Boston Garden). No opponent feared coming to the Bradley Center.
Entertainers used to love coming to perform there when the building still had that state-of-the-art feel in the late 80's and early 90's. They raved about the first-class treatment they got from staff and caterers. They loved the ease of the load-in/load-out. The years passed, though, and the industry moved on to larger, more accessable venues facilities with more bells, whistles and modern technologies. Shows became larger and the BC simply wasn't able to draw the big names with their larger needs.
The Bradley Center's biggest moment came the day the doors opened in 1988 because it kept the Bucks in Milwaukee, gave Marquette a venue it could pitch to recruits, and kept the city relevant when it came to major market entertainment. We never figured out a way to properly maintain it or improve it over the years, what with benefactors Lloyd and Jane Pettit handing the keys over to a board that operated free and clear of the Wisconsin Center District which ran the rest of the venues in the neighborhood. Devoid to tax money that the WCD was able to put into the Auditorium, Arena and convention center, the Bradley Center got maintained but never really got better. Sure, there were new scoreboards and such but as needs changed and new NBA revenue streams got forged, it remained a relic of the late 80's when all teams demanded were suites. As the District spent tens of millions to convert the ancient Auditorium into today's underused Milwaukee Theater, the Bradley Center stayed largely as-was.
Which was fine, for a while. It took the new Bucks ownership to shove Milwaukee into the future and Fiserv Forum came to be with a modicum of the wrangling/wailing/gnashing of teeth that usually accompanies construction of such projects in these parts. Remember, the BC didn't go up until the Pettit's almost yanked the gift amid the debate about where the venue should go, and don't even get us started about Miller Park.
Bit by bit, the Bradley Center is going away, the past weekend's roof-dropping being the most visible part of an otherwise out-of-sight process. There'll be a day soon when the black glass atriums are gone, as well as those stone walls. The venue won't even get the dignity of the quick death that comes with the glory of a public implosion. It's coming down slowly, brick by brick, death by a thousand cuts.
It did it's job. That's probably the most we can say about a structure that saved Milwaukee's pro hoop bacon. It was a bridge to bigger and better things that arose next door where the Bucks now have the lead in what ownership calls “an arms race” to provide athletes and fans with the most audacious venues. How long will the current advantage last?
It's too soon to ponder such matters. Enjoy the new. Celebrate the old. You know you had fun at the Bradley Center, don't you? Maybe it was the first place you saw a game, or the spot where you got to first hear your favorite artist in person. You might remember taking your kids to an ice show there, or perhaps a New Year's Eve with the Harlem Globetrotters.
Hats off to the lid-less BC. Thanks for the memories, if not the championships.