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Compromise reached on American Family Field upgrades

Wisconsin political leaders at every level hailed a compromise on funding American Family Field upgrades, decreasing the burden on local governments and ensuring the Milwaukee Brewers stay Sconnie through 2050.

Though the Brewers’ lease isn’t up until the end for the 2030 season, the team and Gov. Tony Evers sought to use a large $7 billion state budget surplus to spend $290 million on American Family Field upgrades on less-glamorous features like roof repairs and HVAC issues–the sort of things needing attention after more than two decades of use. The Brewers then committed to $110 million in fan-facing enhancements, putting the total package for American Family Field upgrades at $400 million and committing the team to 2043.

Wisconsin Assembly Republicans quickly killed the idea of paying for upgrades upfront and instead called for the state to pay $400 million toward ballpark improvements–some $110 million more than Evers proposed–and tack on $200 million from Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee. The Brewers’ contribution would decrease to $100 million in the same time frame and commit the team to a lease extension through 2050, while also mandating a weatherization of the seating bowl, allowing for year-round events. The total cost for this plan: $700 million.

That approach was too heavy-handed for other Assembly Republicans, who then intervened to craft a proposal that would lessen the tax burden on heavily Democratic Milwaukee County and City of Milwaukee. That proposal relies on taxes paid by players for much of the state share, and to help out Milwaukee County and City of Milwaukee, changes in the plan decreases the local share to $67.5 million over 27 years and lowers the administrative fee charged by the state to local governments for collecting a local sales tax, freeing up some local sales tax receipts to go to the ballpark improvements. This lowers the American Family Field upgrades public budget to $541 million–$411 million from the state and $135 million from Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee over 30 years, with the Brewers contributing $100 million. The Southwest Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District, which built the ballpark using the proceeds of a now-expired five-county sales tax, would continue to oversee the facility.

That plan was greeting with praise by Assembly Republicans and Democrats, as well as local Milwaukee officials.

While the deal was hailed on a bipartisan basis and approved easily by the Assembly Committee on State Affairs, it’s not necessarily the final game plan and could be changed in the legislative process. (Then there’s the issue of support in the heavily Republican Senate.) For instance, the plan could be amended to allow a ticket tax on non-Brewers events like concerts. And while the current plan allows $25 million for weatherization, allowing the ballpark to be used year-round, it’s not clear what the actual costs will be, both for the upgrades in HVAC and systems and ongoing costs for winter heating. The Brewers have worked for the past few years to turn American Family Field into a year-round destination by installing a golf facility in the left-field corner formerly occupied by a club and the installation of a microbrewery at the old TGIF Fridays space.

One other interesting part of the legislation: it funds a two-year study of the feasibility of creating an entertainment district at the ballpark. Milwaukee County Supervisor Peter Burgelis brought up the potential of such a district last summer, but there are some logistical issues. Tailgating is a big deal for Brewers fans and it’s hard to see the team want to cut some of land used for parking to convert to an entertainment area a la the Deer District and The Battery. But if the Komatsu industrial site south of the ballpark becomes available–as has been discussed–then the prospect of an entertainment district becomes more viable.

RELATED STORIES: New American Family Field vision emerging–but is it a practical one?; Brewers would pay less for American Family Field renovations under new Republican planManfred: Find way to renovate American Family Field, or….; Battle over AmFamField renovations pulls Manfred into fray; 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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