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Milwaukee County debates American Family Field development

We’ve mused in these pages about the potential for American Family Field development, and now we’re seeing a Milwaukee County Supervisor wondering the same exact thing.

With potentially costly maintenance at the home of the Milwaukee Brewers on the horizon, Supervisor Peter Burgelis has taken note of other privately financed entertainment districts at sporting facilities (The Battery in Atlanta, Ballpark Village in St. Louis, Wrigleyville in Chicago) and has too wondered why the Brewers owner Mark Attanasio has not considered something similar.

Now, there are plenty of situations where ballpark development makes a ton of sense. Milwaukee may not.

Why not? There is a unique game-day culture at American Family Field that begins and ends with tailgating. Cruise the parking lots around the ballpark and you’ll see thousands of fans setting up grills, tables and cornhole games prepping for a pregame brews and brat. There is a sea of parking around the ballpark to accommodate those fans and the concrete containers for tossing those charcoal embers before the game. There are also more remote parking lots used for groups and cheaper parking options in the form of General Parking. You could argue the Milwaukee Brewers lead pro baseball in promoting pregame consumption without seeking anything past the parking fee.

So the trick will be preserving that game-day culture while creating the MLB equivalent of a Deer District, the entertainment area at Fiserv Forum, downtown home of the Milwaukee Bucks (NBA). The Deer District works because a) it is located directly next to the arena and b) nestled into an already developed downtown area featuring plenty of bars and restaurants.

And Burgelis will likely be very disappointed after further investigation into the economics of an entertainment district. In the vast majority of development centered on sports venues, an investment group with ties to a team has been the instigator of the development, arranging private financing of the projects. There may be some public participation in terms of TIF financing or sales-tax rebates, but by and large these are private endeavors. There’s no indication the Brewers want to pursue such a large capital cost–The Battery cost $400 million, set in 74 acres–and seem happy to preserve the 80 acres of parking and the tailgating culture promoted by the team. From the Milwaukee Business Journal:

A resolution authored by Burgelis suggests a redevelopment, similar to Titletown District near Lambeau Field in Green Bay or St. Louis’ Ballpark Village, on the surface parking lots surrounding AmFam Field. Under Burgelis’ recommendation, the buildings could be a source of new property taxes, some of which could be directed toward maintaining the stadium itself.

“There’s a great opportunity there to put these parcels to higher and better use, not just to support the Brewers but to support the community,” Burgelis said….

A rezoning approved by West Milwaukee officials last year with Komatsu’s support encourages a range of new uses, including hotels, restaurants and other entertainment complementary to AmFam Field.

Another problem: Milwaukee County has very little say on any development. The Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District and Milwaukee Brewers basically have control of the American Family Field area, and It would be up to the city to create and administer a TIF district. An additional 45 acres south of the ballpark could become available if Komatsu moves operations closer to the waterfront. (If you’ve driven by the ballpark from the south and seen the large steam shovel at an industrial plant, that’s the Komatsu location. You also know that property is quite a haul from the ballpark.) If the Komatsu industrial site south of the ballpark is added, development there would fall under the jurisdiction of the village of West Milwaukee. And if I-175 is converted from a freeway to a slower-speed county road or city street, the state would need to be involved as well.

This isn’t to say there’s no chance of an entertainment district next to American Family Field. But it will take a whole lot of heavy lifting to make it work

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