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More changes likely on the way for Brewers stadium deal

State senators could insist on more money from Brewers and changes in stadium board

Three fans stand in the parking lot in front of American Family Field
A fan takes a photo of American Family Field before the Brewers’ season opener against the Twins on Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Milwaukee. Angela Major/WPR

More changes could soon be on the way for a bipartisan plan to fund renovations at American Family Field.

That deal, which includes $546 million in public funds, was passed by the Wisconsin State Assembly last week. The plan aims to ensure the Milwaukee Brewers stay in the city until at least 2050.

It’s still unclear when the bill could be voted on by the Senate, but lawmakers suggested Wednesday that several amendments could be added, which would require approval by the Assembly. As it stands now, the state Senate’s top Republican told the Associated Press the bill would not be able to pass his chamber with only GOP votes.

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One change could include more money from the Milwaukee Brewers organization, which would contribute $100 million as part of the current plan. Other potential Senate amendments include adding a ticket tax for non-Brewers events, as well as changing the makeup of the district board which oversees maintenance of the field.

Under the current plan, the county and city of Milwaukee would contribute $135 million, and the state would contribute $411 million for renovation projects, including winterization of the stadium. Most of the state’s contribution would come from income taxes from Brewers players, Brewers employees and visiting players.

The money would go to the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District, a body that oversees American Family Field, including its retractable roof and video board. Brewers president of business operations Rick Schlesinger told members of the Senate Committee on Government Operations Wednesday that finishing the deal is an “urgent manner.”

“If we don’t get the funding, we’ve got a serious urgency problem,” Schlesinger said.

Schlesinger said several of the stadium’s systems are in need of repair and maintenance.

“I’m finding trouble getting spare parts,” he said. “Literally, I’ve had to go on eBay to get spare parts for some of these things. We’ve had to makeshift things. Obviously, not optimal.”

American Family Field can be seen as people walk toward it on the sidewalk.
Fans walk into American Family Field to watch the Brewers’ season opener Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Milwaukee. Angela Major/WPR

Debate over Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District board seats

Sen. Kelda Roys, D-Madison, said she’d like to see less money from the state as part of the final deal. She also wants to see more local representation on the board of the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District.

“What I find an absolute nonstarter is the lack of representation on the board for the city and the county,” Roys said during a public hearing Wednesday.

Currently, the bill calls for five members of the board to be appointed by the governor, and two each to be appointed by the Senate majority leader and the Assembly speaker.

“They’re (city, county) putting up 25 percent of all the public money, and so by right, they should have 25 percent of the seats on that board,” Roys said.

Rep. Robert Brooks, R-Saukville, said the board composition has gone through a number of iterations. Brooks said that issue, and others, could be amended in the final plan.

“I think we can certainly look at that,” Brooks said about the board composition.

Brooks also said a local advisory board could be created to look at ways to develop the parking lot and the land around the stadium. That’s something Schlesinger has said he’s open to, but only if it makes financial sense.

“If we’re going to do it, it’s our exclusive property. If it makes economic sense, we would like to do it. If it makes no economic sense, it would be a fool’s errand to do it,” he said.

“Can real estate development coexist with our tailgating culture and with our parking? Yes, but the devil is in the details,” he added.

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Some issues that Schlesinger mentioned regarding development outside of the stadium include making sure there’s still enough parking for games, traffic concerns and environmental concerns on the land.

Brooks also said a possible tax for non-Brewers events could be discussed. That could include concerts and other sporting events.

The city would currently be allowed to pay for its share of the annual payments by redirecting a state administrative fee on a new local sales tax passed earlier this year. After it passed the Assembly, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said the proposal now has his “full support.”

Gov. Tony Evers told reporters last week he’s “ready to support” the bill as written.

A 2020 report from Conventions, Sports and Leisure International found the Brewers paid about $106.8 million in upgrades to maintain the stadium since its creation. They’ve also paid about $20 million in rent to the stadium district since 2001.

That report also found that from 2001 to 2019, the stadium created $2.5 billion in total output for the state, including $1.6 billion in direct spending and $263 in new taxes.

The team is valued at $1.6 billon, according to Forbes. Despite having one of the smallest markets, the Brewers ranked 15th out of 30 Major League Baseball teams in attendance last season, averaging just over 31,000 fans per game.