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MLB Commissioner says he’s confident a deal to keep Milwaukee Brewers in the city will come through

Robert Manfred toured American Family Field Thursday

MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred during a press conference at American Family Field.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred speaks to reporters at American Family Field in Milwaukee on Thursday, May 25, 2023. Evan Casey/WPR

Major League Baseball’s top executive said Thursday he’s confident a deal to fund improvements at American Family Field and keep the Milwaukee Brewers in the city will come through.

The comments come after the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution Thursday opposing the use of county tax dollars to fund long-term renovations of the stadium. Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos also shot down a $290 million plan from Gov. Tony Evers to fund stadium improvements.

Even so, Major League Baseball Commissioner Robert Manfred said he believes a deal will occur.

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“I remain confident that the Brewers are a great asset for the fans here in Milwaukee and that the governmental entities are going to find a way to fund the obligation that they agreed to when this ballpark was built, and they’re going to do it because it’s good business,” Manfred told reporters during a press conference at the stadium Thursday.

American Family Field
American Family Field can be seen here in 2022. Evan Casey/WPR

During a public forum last year, Rick Schlesinger, the team’s president of business operations, mentioned American Family Field’s trademark retractable roof as one of the features most in need of attention. Some are now worried the Brewers could leave Milwaukee after its lease with the stadium expires in 2030 if no public or state funding for improvements come through.

Manfred didn’t express the same concern Thursday.

“I think the Brewers are interested in a long-term relationship, an extension of the lease that keeps them here,” he said. “Major League Baseball provides great economic activity in all of its markets, especially in a market where you draw like this market does and so it’s not just an expense item, it’s an investment in keeping Milwaukee a Major League city.”

The Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District is charged with overseeing and maintaining American Family Field.

“The real time issue is that a ballpark like this requires regular maintenance, and there needs to be regular money available to do that maintenance,” Manfred said. “You need to get this issue resolved so that the things that need to get done to keep this an A-plus facility are done in a timely manner.”

In February, Evers proposed spending $290 million in state money on improvements at American Family Field, which opened in 2001. That proposal would have come in the form of a one-time payment using the state’s projected $7.1 billion budget surplus. As part of the deal, the Brewers would sign a new lease that would keep the team in Milwaukee until 2043.

But Vos, R-Rochester, has said he wants local money to be used in any such deal.

“Legislators are brainstorming ideas so they don’t relocate, and hope to have a plan in the near future,” a spokesperson for Vos said Thursday.

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos talks to the media
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos talks to the media after Gov. Tony Evers’ State of the State speech at the state Capitol on Feb. 15, 2022, in Madison, Wis. Vos was scheduled to be the final witness interviewed Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol as the panel wraps up its work, its chairman said. Andy Manis/AP File Photo

The city of Milwaukee is dealing with what local leaders have called a “budget crisis,” while Milwaukee County officials say they’re facing a looming fiscal cliff. Jeff Fleming, a spokesperson for Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, said Johnson wants to keep the Brewers in the city for the “long-long-term.”

“As to what role, if any, the city might play in securing the future of the team, that is not an active discussion,” Fleming said. “Right now, we are very focused on resolving our own fiscal challenges. We currently have no available resources that could be directed to stadium improvements.”

The 1995 Brewers deal to construct Miller Park authorized government bonding, or borrowing, to pay for construction of the stadium. Borrowing for the project totaled more than $259 million, according to a 2019 memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Taxpayers in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Washington, Waukesha and Racine counties paid an extra 0.1 percent sales tax to retire that debt and the associated interest. Evers signed a law in 2019 requiring the local sales tax to expire in 2020.

Cars are parked in front of American Family Field on a sunny day.
Fans walk into American Family Field before the Brewers’ season opener against the Twins on Thursday, April 1, 2021, in Milwaukee. Angela Major/WPR

Manfred called the ballpark an asset for the city. The Brewers have been in the top 10 in attendance in the National League for the last 15 seasons. The Home Crew Coalition, a group aimed ensuring the Brewers stay in Milwaukee, said the Brewers have created an estimated $2.5 billion in statewide economic impact since Miller Park opened in 2001.