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Battle over AmFamField renovations pulls Manfred into fray

The parochial political battle over American Family Field renovations funding has attracted the attention of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, but don’t expect him to have much of an impact on the proceedings.

We’ve been covering the AmFamField renovations story for over a year now, but the basic plot line hasn’t changed: Wisconsin Republicans can’t withstand the temptation to make Milwaukee suffer at every opportunity. (Yes, all politics are local, but especially so in Wisconsin, as we observed during our decade-plus as Wisconsin residents.) In this particular case, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and his merry band of rural lawmakers are dismissing American Family Field as a “local project” and demanding that any state aid for $290 million in American Family Field maintenance must be augmented by local spending from the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County.

Gov. Tony Evers, meanwhile, wants to use part of a $7 billion surplus to pay for the $290 million in ballpark maintenance and improvements–in cash, with no borrowing. That spending would cover lease-mandated renovations like roof and HVAC repairs, with the Brewers funding the rest of the $448 million project price tag to cover fan-facing upgrades. When a ballpark is over 20 years old, those roof and HVAC repairs are fairly routine.

And, realistically, there is no way American Family Field can be considered a “local project,” as Vos likes to say. The city and Milwaukee County don’t own or operate the ballpark; the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District owns the ballpark and leases it to the Brewers. And while the city and Milwaukee County obviously see a financial impact from Brewers fans heading to and from games, the big bucks–like player taxes–goes to the state. Plus, we’ve love to see some study on exactly how much Brewers fans actually spend outside the ballpark; our experience is that many head to the ballpark early, quaff some Miller High Lifes while tailgating, and buying a beer and a brat at the game. We don’t see a lot of them hitting Milwaukee night spots after a game; they’re not cruising Brady and dropping off for a nightcap at Wolski’s.

But that’s OK. The tailgating is what makes a Brewers game such a great experience.

Vos’s problem is that he really can’t summon many reasonable objections to Evers’ proposal, from a political standpoint. It uses a portion of a large state surplus to invest in a state-owned asset, it keeps the immensely popular Brewers in small-market Milwaukee (though the team has not threatened to leave and, indeed, has been quietly looking at constructing a new entertainment district south of the ballpark), it pushes the Brewers to spend their own funds on revenue-generating ballpark improvements, it extends the team’s lease to 2043, and it raises no taxes. The governor’s plan to fund AmFamField renovations makes financial sense.

So it will be interesting to see exactly what Manfred will say to the Milwaukee media. He can’t really threaten a move of the team–the American Family Field lease runs through 2030–and he’s highly unlikely to address the local politics causing the roadblock. His role will be to urge the state cash spending on AmFamField renovations to be accepted by the Assembly. Vos will ignore him. And the politics go on.

RELATED STORIES: Murky waters ahead for American Family Field renovations; Initial funding proposal for American Family Field renovations shot downState surplus would help fund American Family Field maintenanceMilwaukee County debates American Family Field developmentBrewers warn of need for American Family Field improvements

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