Business leaders, academics, journalists, politicians, even the majority owner of a National Hockey League franchise on Monday took turns poking and pulling at what is essentially a Gordian knot: whether to build a new arena to keep the Milwaukee Bucks in town.

For some, the issue is about Milwaukee's reputation and rank.

For others, it's a matter of balancing priorities.

For still others, it's a question of tax burden and economic impact.

Across the country, financing and constructing new arenas or stadiums for professional sports franchises take years to work through and leave few completely satisfied. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake.

On Monday, round one of the arena debate in Milwaukee began at Marquette University's Law School with a conference intended to explore and discuss whether an arena is needed, how it would be paid for, what would happen if the Bucks leave town and whether the time is right for a more aggressive plan to address the needs of other artistic and cultural institutions.

The law school and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel sponsored the gathering.

Timothy Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, and Marc Marotta, chairman of the BMO Harris Bradley Center board of directors, said the focus should be on what can be done to maintain Milwaukee as a top-tier city. That means addressing an array of quality of life issues.

Sheehy said his organization plans to form an internal arena study task force, but he said issues such as improving education in grades K-12 and providing more jobs also are high priority. Sheehy said he is optimistic the community can find ways to enhance the city's cultural, sports and artistic needs.

"Great cities can walk and chew gum at the same time," he said.