Gov. Tony Evers recently unveiled a plan to use $290 million of the state’s $7 billion surplus for upgrades to American Family Field, the 22-year-old home of the Milwaukee Brewers.
Studies commissioned by the Brewers and the state indicate the stadium will need more than $400 million in upgrades over the next 18 years. The Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District is the primary owner of the stadium and is responsible for major capital repairs and improvements and still has $70 million in reserve.
So, under the Evers plan there would be $360 million in taxpayer money available for upgrades to the stadium, plus interest accrued as those funds are saved and invested until they need to be spent. The Brewers would commit to remaining in Milwaukee until 2043 and to spending its own money on future discretionary stadium projects. The team’s current lease for the stadium ends in 2030.
But what if public money isn’t provided for future repairs and upgrades needed at the stadium? We’ve seen this game played countless times by professional sports teams in America. There’s always the threat, said or unsaid, that the team could move to another city that builds them a new stadium.
Why don’t the Brewers just pay for these repairs themselves? After all, Forbes estimates the value of the Brewers at $1.28 billion, or about $1 billion more than what a group led by Mark Attanasio paid to buy the team in 2005. But the stadium district’s obligations to maintain the facility combined with the competitive landscape for cities to have major professional sports teams means officials must come up with a funding solution to maintain the stadium and keep the Brewers here long term.
Evers’ proposal will probably be revised. Included in his budget plan, the Republican-controlled state Legislature will likely throw the proposal out as they put together and ultimately pass their own budget.
The Legislature will probably want to commit a smaller amount of state money for improvements to the stadium than $290 million, and they will probably want some local funding skin in the game.
By comparison, look at how funding for Fiserv Forum worked out. Public funds covered $250 million of the $524 million total cost, with the state providing $55 million ($80 million including interest) and local government, including the city, county and Wisconsin Center District, splitting the rest.
The city and county are in a terrible financial condition and have no money available for stadium upgrades. But if the Brewers developed some of the real estate around their stadium, as several other pro sports teams have done, property tax revenue would be generated that could help pay for stadium repairs.
It will be up to the Brewers, Evers, state legislators and local officials to make a deal. Nobody wants to lose the team and the tax revenue it generates while being stuck with an empty stadium.