Public funding proposed to rejig Brewers home


$600M upgrades proposed for Brewers stadium Image: MLB

Republican legislators announced a Bill recently that would devote more than $614 million in public funding to repair and renovate the Major League Baseball (MLB) team Milwaukee Brewers’ home stadium – the American Family Field in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (US) -far more than the taxpayers spent to build it more than two decades ago.

‘ESPN’ stated that under the proposal, the State would give the team $60.8 million next fiscal year and up to $20 million each year after that through 2045-2046. The City of Milwaukee would contribute a total of $202 million and the Milwaukee County would kick in $135 million by 2050.

The Milwaukee Brewers are an American professional baseball team based in Milwaukee (US). They compete in Major League Baseball (MLB) as a member club of the National League Central division.

The 41,900-capacity American Family Field is a retractable roof stadium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (US). Located Southwest of the intersection of Interstate 94 and Brewers Boulevard, it is the home ballpark of the Major League Baseball’s (MLB’s) Milwaukee Brewers. It opened in 2001 as a replacement for the now-demolished 53,192-capacity Milwaukee County Stadium in Milwaukee.

‘ESPN’ further stated that the team would contribute about $100 million and extend its lease at the American Family Field through 2050, keeping Major League Baseball in its smallest market for another 27 years.

New York (US)-based the Major League Baseball (MLB) is a professional baseball organization. One of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada, the MLB comprises 30 teams, divided equally between the National League (NL) and the American League (AL), with 29 in the United States and 1 in Canada.

Reports commissioned by the Brewers and another by a State consultant found that the stadium’s glass outfield doors, seats and concourses should be replaced, that its luxury suites and technology such as its sound system and video scoreboard need upgrades and that its signature retractable roof needs repairs. The fire suppression systems, parking lots, elevators and escalators need work too.

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.

Public funding for professional sports facilities is always a hotly debated issue.

At a stadium news conference announcing the plan, the Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos tried to justify the spending. He said losing the Brewers to another City would cost the State and the local economies tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue each year, which could lead to diminished State aid for the communities around Wisconsin.

Baseball operations at the American Family Field generate enough tax revenue that lawmakers can afford to give the team money without imposing any new taxes, Vos said.

“It’s a win for Wisconsin,” the Speaker said of the proposal.

No Brewers personnel spoke at the news conference. Rick Schlesinger, the team’s President of Business Operations, issued a statement saying the proposal shows that lawmakers want to keep the team in Milwaukee. He did not say specifically whether the team supports the plan.

The proposal would have to pass the Republican-controlled State Assembly and the State Senate and get the Democratic Governor of Wisconsin Tony Evers’ signature before it could become law. Evers’ office issued a statement saying he looked forward to reviewing the proposal.

The team’s Principal Owner, Mark Attanasio, has an estimated net worth of $700 million. The team itself is valued at around $1.6 billion. Still, the Brewers have been working for months to secure public funding for stadium repairs and upgrades.

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 the Republican lawmakers killed the plan after Vos said he wanted a longer lease extension.

The stadium opened in 2001 as the Miller Park and replaced the aging County Stadium. Construction cost about $392 million and was funded largely through a 0.1 percent sales tax imposed in Milwaukee County and the four other counties that surround the stadium.

Construction got off to a tough start. The tax was a lightning rod for criticism. The Republican State Senator George Petak was recalled from office in 1996 after he switched his vote from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’ on the tax plan. And three construction workers were killed at the stadium in 1999 when a crane collapsed.

But the park ultimately got built. Known for its distinctive fantail retractable roof, the stadium became a destination for the Wisconsin baseball fans as the Brewers experienced a resurgence in the late 2000s, advancing to their first playoff appearance in 26 years in 2008. The team has made five other trips to the playoffs since then, including two appearances in the National League Championship Series. The Brewers currently lead the NL Central by 6½ games as they pursue their fifth playoff appearance in the last six years.

The five-county sales tax generated about $605 million before it expired in 2020. The stadium name changed to the 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 recently would create provisions for the State to loan the district up to $50 million for stadium repairs.

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