Republicans are suggesting allocating $614 million of public funds towards improving the Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium.
Republican lawmakers in Milwaukee have introduced a bill to allocate over $614 million of public funds towards the repair and renovation of the Milwaukee Brewers’ stadium. This amount exceeds the initial cost of building the stadium over twenty years ago.
The plan suggests that the team would receive $60.8 million from the state in the upcoming fiscal year and an additional $20 million annually until 2045-46. The city of Milwaukee would provide a total of $202 million, and Milwaukee County would contribute $135 million by 2050.
The team plans to invest approximately $100 million and renew its lease at American Family Field until 2050, ensuring that major league baseball remains in its smallest market for an additional 27 years.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos expressed his satisfaction with the outcome in Wisconsin during a press conference held at American Family Field.
Vos stated that if the Brewers were to relocate to another city, it would result in a significant loss of tax revenue for the state and local economies. This could potentially lead to reduced state aid for communities across Wisconsin.
Vos stated that the tax revenue generated by baseball operations at American Family Field is sufficient to allow lawmakers to provide financial support to the team without implementing additional taxes.
During a news conference on Monday, Rick Schlesinger, the team’s president of business operations, expressed his approval of the proposal as a positive initial move. He anticipates that the plan will undergo modifications but would still be content if it were approved at present.
The proposal needs approval from both the Republican-controlled state Assembly and state Senate, as well as the signature of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, in order to become a law. Gov. Evers’ office released a statement on Monday expressing his anticipation to review the proposal.
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson, who belongs to the Democratic party, expressed his concern about the proposal, stating that it would impose an excessive burden on the city. He argued that since city residents are also residents of Milwaukee County, they would essentially be asked to pay twice. Additionally, he criticized the bill for eliminating the mayor’s authority to appoint members to the stadium district board.
Assembly Democratic Minority Leader Greta Neubauer released a statement in agreement with Johnson, expressing that the bill places excessive demands on both the city and the county.
Two reports, one requested by the Brewers and another conducted by a state consultant, have concluded that several aspects of the stadium require attention. Specifically, the glass outfield doors, seats, and concourses should be replaced, while upgrades are needed for luxury suites, technology like the sound system and video scoreboard, and the signature retractable roof. Additionally, repairs are necessary for fire suppression systems, parking lots, elevators, and escalators.
At their individual press briefings, Schlesinger and Vos mentioned the possibility of renovating the stadium to make it suitable for hosting events during colder months, such as concerts and NCAA basketball games. Despite the presence of a retractable roof, they highlighted that the temperature inside the stadium can reach subzero levels.
According to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo attached to the legislation, baseball operations at the stadium currently generate about $19.8 million annually in state and local taxes. That figure is expected to grow to $50.7 million annually by 2050, according to the memo.
The topic of public funding for professional sports facilities is consistently a subject of intense debate.
According to Yahoo Finance, Mark Attanasio, the primary owner of the team, is believed to have a net worth of $700 million. Forbes estimates the team’s value to be approximately $1.6 billion. Despite this, the Brewers have been actively seeking public funding for stadium repairs and improvements for several months.
Evers proposed giving the team almost $300 million in the state budget in exchange for the team extending its lease by 13 years, to 2043. Evers would have pulled the money from the state’s $7 billion surplus, but Republican lawmakers killed the plan after Vos said he wanted a longer lease extension.
The stadium opened in 2001 as Miller Park and replaced aging County Stadium. Construction cost about $392 million and was funded largely through a 0.1% sales tax imposed in Milwaukee County and the four other counties that surround the stadium.
The beginning of the construction faced difficulties. The tax became a target of criticism, leading to the recall of Republican state Sen. George Petak in 1996 due to his change in vote from opposing to supporting the tax plan. Additionally, in 1999, a crane collapse resulted in the tragic death of three construction workers at the stadium.
However, the park was eventually constructed. With its unique retractable roof shaped like a fantail, the stadium became a popular spot for baseball enthusiasts in Wisconsin. The Brewers saw a revival in the late 2000s and made their first playoff appearance in 26 years in 2008. Since then, they have qualified for the playoffs five more times, reaching the National League Championship Series twice. Currently, the Brewers are leading the NL Central by a margin of 6 ½ games as they aim for their fifth playoff appearance in the past six years.
The five-county sales tax generated about $605 million before it expired in 2020. The stadium name changed to American Family Field in 2021 after the Brewers struck a 15-year naming rights deal with the insurance company.
The Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District essentially serves as the Brewers’ landlord at the stadium. The Brewers’ lease calls for the district to cover repairs, but Evers’ office and the Brewers said in February that the end of the sales tax has left the district short of funds.
The package introduced Monday would create provisions for the state to loan the district up to $50 million for stadium repairs.
Richmond reported from Madison.
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