A funding plan for American Family Field renovations passed the Wisconsin Assembly, but the proposal’s future in the Wisconsin Senate is far more uncertain.
The agreement was close, but not identical, to a proposal floated and approved last week by the Assembly Committee on State Affairs on a bipartisan vote. That proposal called for the public portion of the AmFamField renovations to be $541 million–$411 million from the state and $135 million from Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee–largely funded by diverting player taxes from then state to the ballpark, and lowering the administrative fee charged by the state to local governments for collecting a local sales tax. The Brewers would pay $100 million and extend their American Family Field lease to 2050. Dropped from the bill: a ticket tax on non-Brewers events, as the entire idea of weatherizing the ballpark to allow for winter events–and the ongoing costs to heat the place–is still a little undefined. Added to the bill: the Brewers would designate one home game per month as a discount ticket day for Wisconsin residents.
Still, it was easily approved by the Assembly on a 69-27 vote.
But opposition to the bill is emerging in the Wisconsin Senate. Though Republicans are just short of a supermajority in the Senate, the opposition comes from both sides of the aisle: Republicans think too much state spending is devoted to a Milwaukee ballpark, while Democrats want to see public money spent on social programs, with the Brewers responsible for more spending on maintenance, even though the team’s lease calls for the Southwest Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District, as landlord, to be responsible for keeping the ballpark to MLB levels and perform all physical maintenance, including the installation of new HVAC equipment and fixing problems with the retractable roof. In addition, lawmakers from both side of the aisle would like to see a ticket tax extended to all events, including Brewers games. From the Cap Times:
But over two dozen lawmakers from both parties opposed the legislation, with criticism that the deal gave away too much to the Brewers.
Rep. Lori Palmeri, D-Oshkosh, said the bill was a case of “wants, not needs,” pointing to the 140 faculty members given layoff notices at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh on Monday.
“I cannot in good conscience support corporate welfare schemes when there are so many unmet needs in our state,” Palmieri said.
Rick Schlesinger, President of Business Operations for the Milwaukee Brewers. issued a statement in favor of the funding plan codified by the Assembly:
“Today’s vote by a bipartisan majority of the State Assembly shows that momentum continues to grow for a solution to maintain American Family Field and to keep the Brewers in Milwaukee for the next generation. We are very grateful for the leadership of legislative and local officials, as well as that of Governor Evers, who have helped to negotiate creative solutions that protect taxpayers and avoid the return of the five-county sales tax.
“The MMAC study demonstrated that American Family Field has contributed north of $2.5 billion in statewide economic impact since opening its doors in 2001, and by extending the ballpark’s useful life, we are working to preserve an important economic driver for the future.
“The Brewers will continue to work with all stakeholders in the days and weeks ahead. As the Brewers landlord, the Stadium District needs resources to honor its current lease agreement with its tenant. Today’s bipartisan vote creates a path to provide those resources, as well as the resources needed to help keep Major League Baseball in Milwaukee for the next generation.”
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. The Brewers have reportedly studied the prospects and are not enthused.
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