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State surplus would help fund American Family Field maintenance

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is proposing using part of the state’s $7 billion budget surplus to pay $290 million toward the anticipated $400 million price tag for American Family Field maintenance and repairs.

Funding on an American Family Field maintenance plan would be tied to an extension of the Milwaukee Brewers’ lease to 2043. Currently the lease is set to expire after the 2030 MLB season.

The money would go to the American Family Field owner, the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District. If approved, the state funds would be attached to a new lease with the district and non-relocation agreement aimed at keeping the Major League Baseball team in Milwaukee through 2043. The district’s current lease runs through the end of the 2030 season.

“I’ve been watching baseball in Milwaukee since the County Stadium days when I had the chance of a lifetime to watch Warren Spahn’s 300th-career game there way back when,” Evers said in a press statement. “As governor, and also someone who also happens to be a lifelong Brewers fan, I’m so excited about the historic opportunity we have today to keep Major League Baseball here in Milwaukee for another twenty years and to usher in a new generation of Brewers fans in Wisconsin who can grow up rooting for the home team just like I did.”

Much of the funding would go to the unglamorous maintenance of items like HVAC upgrades–things that come after 20 years after opening. Then-Miller Park opened in 2001, and while the Brewers have kept things fresh on the fan side with things like overhauled concessions, an indoor golf simulator and reconfigured seating options, keeping the boilers running is not the team’s responsibility under the lease. From the Wisconsin State Journal:

Rick Schlesinger, President of Business Operations for the Milwaukee Brewers, said the agreement, which will require support from the Republican-controlled Legislature to come to fruition, would ensure that Milwaukee area residents will not need to return to the previous five-county tax that had largely funded the stadium up until 2020.

“We are not asking for the Stadium District to take on new financial obligations under the lease, or for a new ballpark — just the resources to make sure the Stadium District’s existing obligations are met,” Schlesinger said. “As we said when the Stadium District’s funding shortfall first became known, we have remained focused on gathering facts and information that everyone can rely upon through a full capital needs assessment.”

Evers will unveil his 2023-25 biennial budget address on Wednesday. From there, Republicans will rewrite the document before sending it back to the governor’s desk.

The Brewers warned about the need for a plan to address American Family Field maintenance issues, pointing out that the maintenance fund administered by the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District. The ballpark was funded by a five-county sales tax that passed the state legislature after a bruising political battle, but the tax sunset a few years ago. There’s likely little appetite for the Legislature to reintroduce that tax, which covered both heavily liberal and heavily conservative counties.

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RELATED STORIES: Milwaukee County debates American Family Field development; Brewers warn of need for American Family Field improvements