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Wisconsin Republicans announce plan to use state, local dollars to fund Brewers stadium renovations

Deal would keep Brewers in Milwaukee until 2050

Miller Park was renamed American Family Field in 2021. Evan Casey/WPR 

Wisconsin Republican lawmakers announced a $700 million plan Monday to use state and local dollars to fund renovations at American Family Field and ensure the Milwaukee Brewers stay in the city until 2050.

Under the plan, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said around $200 million would come from Milwaukee County and the city of Milwaukee, while the Brewers would also contribute around $100 million for the stadium improvements.

“The entire plan is focused on making sure that the people who come into the ballpark — that’s the players and the fans — are the ones who are entirely responsible for helping to keep the team here,” Vos said at American Family Field on Monday.

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Wisconsin Rep. Robert Brooks, R-Saukville, said the Brewers would need to stay in Milwaukee until at least 2050 under the proposal. The majority of state funds would come from income taxes from Brewers players and employees, as well as from visiting players.

“Our deal raises no taxes,” Brooks said.

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

The bill was introduced Monday. Vos said he expects a vote to occur sometime in October.

The plan comes months after Gov. Tony Evers proposed spending $290 million of the state’s budget surplus to fund improvements. Weeks after that announcement, Vos said that deal was likely “dead.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Evers said his administration is disappointed that Republicans rejected the governor’s “commonsense proposal.”

“Gov. Evers looks forward to reviewing Republicans’ proposal and continuing conversations on a plan that provides additional flexibility and minimizes harm for local partners while ensuring we keep this important economic driver and thousands of jobs in our state,” the statement said.

Local, state leaders respond

The city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County would make annual payments of around $7.5 million through the deal until 2050.

“The most direct economic benefit for keeping the team here accrues to the city and county of Milwaukee,” Vos said.

Even so, local leaders have opposed paying for improvements. In May, the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a resolution opposing the use of county tax dollars to fund long-term renovations of the stadium. A joint statement released in July by five Milwaukee alders also said they believe no local tax dollars should be spent on the deal.

“We believe firmly that NOT A DIME of the funding should be footed by City of Milwaukee taxpayers,” stated that joint letter from Alder Jonathan Brostoff, Alder Lamont Westmoreland, Alder Larresa Taylor, Alder Mark Borkowski and Alder Russell Stamper, II.

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

After the announcement, Milwaukee County Supervisor Ryan Clancy said he believes the plan “does not make sense.”

“Both city and county government in Milwaukee has already said no to this,” Clancy said.

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said he was encouraged there’s a renewed bipartisan push to ensure the Brewers stay in Milwaukee. But he expressed a desire to see less of a burden on local taxpayers.

“Do I have issue with the local contribution? Yeah, I do,” Johnson said Monday morning.

“As we all know, city residents are also county residents in Milwaukee, so we would be paying twice,” he added.

Assembly Democratic Leader Greta Neubauer, D-Racine, and Assistant Democratic Leader Kalan Haywood, D-Milwaukee, released a statement saying they believe the plan places too much of a financial burden on Milwaukee.

“We remain willing to continue conversations and hopeful that a bipartisan agreement can be reached,” the statement said.

Fans wait to catch a ball during batting practice before a Milwaukee Brewers game in April 2022. Evan Casey/WPR

The city and county of Milwaukee have been dealing with budget issues for several years. In a news release, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said any new plan “must recognize that reality.”

“I look forward to discussions with our State partners to identify a path forward that allows Milwaukee and the state to retain the Brewers, while providing Milwaukee County the resources to support our residents and communities in the years ahead,” Crowley said.

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. Part of the plan announced Monday also includes winterizing the stadium so it can be used for events in colder months.

In a statement, Schlesinger said he believes it’s important the Brewers stay in Milwaukee.

“The Brewers have said all along that it will take creative, bipartisan solutions to keep Major League Baseball in Wisconsin for the next generation. Today’s proposal from Republicans in the legislature, along with an earlier plan by Governor Evers, shows that there is true consensus across party lines for a solution to extend the life of American Family Field,” he wrote.

A man stands on the field at American Family Field
Rick Schlesinger, the Brewers’ president of business operations, stands on the field before the team’s home opener Monday, April 3, 2023, at American Family Field in Milwaukee, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

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

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.

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.

Despite having one of the smallest markets, the Brewers rank 16 out of 30 Major League Baseball teams this season in attendance, averaging just over 30,000 fans per game.