Evers pitching $290 million plan for American Family Field upgrades

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is proposing to use $290 million from the state’s surplus to fund improvements to American Family Field in Milwaukee.

The plan, which will be included in the budget that Evers introduces later this week, would make a one-time cash payment of $290 million to the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District. The money, along with existing funds at the district and a contribution from the Milwaukee Brewers, would be used by the district to meet its stadium maintenance obligations under its lease with the Brewers.

Those obligations include updates and maintenance to the stadium like repairs to the retractable roof system, new boilers and fixes to expansion joints. The work is less of a single, major construction project and more the ongoing repair and replacement of aging systems and updates to meet current building standards. Studies done by the Venue Solutions Group for the Brewers and by CAA Icon for the state point to around $448 million in projects to be done over the course of the lease to keep American Family Field up-to-date with Major League Baseball standards.

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Because Evers’ proposal is for a cash payment, the state would save by not having to turn to bonding or borrowing. Additionally, the stadium district will be able to invest the funds it does not immediately need, providing a return to help fund projects in future years.

In exchange for the state support, the Brewers would sign a non-relocation agreement and commit to another 20 years at American Family Field, keeping the team in Milwaukee through the end of 2043. The current lease would allow the team to leave as soon as 2030.

“As governor, and also someone who also happens to be a lifelong Brewers fan, I’m so excited about the historic opportunity we have today to keep Major League Baseball here in Milwaukee for another twenty years and to usher in a new generation of Brewers fans in Wisconsin who can grow up rooting for the home team just like I did,” Evers said.

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In announcing the plan, Evers noted it would use “just a small portion of our state’s historic surplus.” Wisconsin has a roughly $7 billion budget surplus. The governor also said that the team’s presence will generate around $400 million in tax revenue through 2043.

The proposal, however, will face an uncertain path forward as part of Evers’ budget proposal and Republicans in control of the Legislature. In the most recent budget cycle, Republicans essentially passed their own budget for Evers to sign, dropping many of his proposals. After its introduction Wednesday, lawmakers in the Assembly and Senate will work on the budget throughout the spring with Evers looking to sign a final product before the start of the state’s next fiscal year in July.

Rich Schlesinger, president of business operations for the Brewers, said the team is committed to working with policymakers on both sides of the aisle to keep the stadium up-to-date and the team in Milwaukee.

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“This will require creative solutions that garner bipartisan support. We oppose the return of the five-county (sales) tax, and we are prepared to commit to a lease extension for the Brewers to remain at American Family Field through at least 2043,” Schlesinger said.

He noted that the stadium district is the primary owner of American Family Field and is responsible for major capital repairs and improvements. The stadium, which opened in 2001, cost about $392 million to build.

“We are not asking for the Stadium District to take on new financial obligations under the lease, or for a new ballpark – just the resources to make sure the Stadium District’s existing obligations are met,” Schlesinger said.

The proposal from Evers does not include any contributions from local governments to help finance the improvements.

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