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Initial funding proposal for American Family Field renovations shot down

A proposal by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to spend $290 million from a state budget surplus on American Family Field renovations has been shot down by the leadership of state Assembly Republicans–but the door is open to further discussion.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called the proposal from Evers, backed by a coalition of state business and sports leaders under the Home Crew Coalition umbrella (including Wisconsin Timber Rattlers President/CEO Rob Zerjav and La Crosse Loggers owner Dan Kapake) and crafted with the input of the Brewers, “dead.” The proposal would draw on 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. 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 sole responsibility under the lease. The Brewers would then commit to a lease extension through 2043 and spend an additional $110 million on fan-side improvements.

(We’ve had a chance to review the laundry list of improvements commissioned by the Brewers and by and large the line items are full of incredibly routine and unglamorous items, including upgraded escalators, roof repairs, new seats and renovated restrooms.)

The benefits to the state are many: it would keep the Brewers in Milwaukee through 2043 (a date that likely could be negotiated further out), it would use a small percentage of a large surplus to address a contractural obligation under the ballpark lease, and it would prevent the state and the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District from borrowing money to pay for needed repairs, avoiding any lending costs. (This money would not go to the Brewers; it would go to the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District, which owns the ballpark.)

But before the legislative Republicans even had a chance to formally discuss the matter, Vos declared it dead:

“I imagine his plan as devised is dead but hopefully a different plan will be able to come forward,” Vos told reporters at the state Capitol on Wednesday. “He is taking one-time money and basically giving it away … I’m not sure (the) amount of time he’s asking the team to stay here is … correct.”

Vos said he would like to see another proposal put forward and suggested he would back a longer time commitment from the Brewers to stay in Wisconsin than 13 years, comparing Evers’ proposal to a legislative package crafted eight years ago for the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team.

“I think there has to be a different deal put together. Again, I haven’t talked about it with the Senate, I haven’t talked about with our caucus. So I don’t want to get into all the details. But at the same time, I think the deal that (Evers) cut is not a very good one for the taxpayer,” Vos said.

The Brewers warned about the need for a plan to address American Family Field maintenance issues–not an unusual situation for a ballpark over 20 years old. 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 very little appetite for the Legislature to reintroduce that tax, which covered both heavily liberal and heavily conservative counties.

RELATED STORIES: State surplus would help fund American Family Field maintenance; Milwaukee County debates American Family Field development; Brewers warn of need for American Family Field improvements

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