MILWAUKEE — The newest plan to fund the Milwaukee Brewers stadium improvements carries a large price tag which would be in part paid for by taxpayers. But for the ballpark that’s typically closed five months a year, it could open up its ability to operate every day.
In the newest plan, Milwaukee and Milwaukee County would cover about $200 million of the $700 million funding bill. Brewers President Rick Schlesinger says it would cost roughly $20 million to $25 million to winterize the park.
“It’s not a small undertaking but it opens up interesting possibilities,” Schlesinger said. “Concerts, NCAA basketball games, the NHL Winter Classic, volleyball. "To me, it’s a wonderful facility and the fact we could use it in November, December, January, February, and March when it’s otherwise shut down is a great opportunity.”
Consider the other professional sports venue in town. Fiserv Forum is able to host events during winter months but even on the nights when the lights are out at the arena, there is still a buzz in front. Deer District boasts several restaurants, bars, and third-space opportunities. Monday was an example of why Deer District helps keep an active downtown. There is absolutely nothing on the docket at Fiserv Forum for the night, but Good City Brewing was filled with people, Fat Tuesday had people streaming through to pick up frozen cocktails and Punch Bowl Social was hosting an event.
“We come down here probably three times a week,” DaQuan Perkins of Milwaukee said. “Sometimes I come with my friends. We have a drink, eat, and walk around.”
“It’s a nice area to bring a lot of clients from out of town,” Kevin McWey said.
That’s exactly what McWey was doing Monday night. He had the CEO of his business in town and knew Deer District was a great place to bring Milwaukee first-timers. He says, if the Brewers created something similar, he’d definitely go there too.
“I’m in the western suburbs so it would be nice to have some place that close to bring the family for cocktails, happy hour, a snack. Maybe someplace they can play bags. You name it.”
However, the funding plan does not include any language about developing the land around American Family Field.
The Mayor’s Office provided audio of an interview Cavalier Johnson did, making comments about improving the space at American Family Field.
“The Brewers should really consider, and we should use this conversation to push them, to have development around American Family Field,” Johnson said. “It makes sense. It creates a new revenue source for the Brewers, the organization, and puts us in a position now because the City of Milwaukee is in a position to collect sales taxes and puts us in a stronger position as well to do that.”
Johnson referred to it as a ‘sea of parking’ around the stadium. According to Way.com, there are roughly 12,000 parking spots at American Family Field. That’s about four times as many spots as Lambeau Field has and 4,000 fewer spots than Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Placing development on some of this space is what Johnson and another local leader feel could be mutually beneficial.
“There is so much room around AmFam Field,” Milwaukee County Supervisor Peter Burgelis said. “It’s ripe for development.” We could invest in infrastructure and build a neighborhood that can support the stadium and the stadium can help support the neighborhood.”
In order to do that, it would require buy-in from the Brewers, and, at least at this point, Schlesinger isn’t on board.
“Someday, could development around the ballpark be a reality?” Schlesinger said. “Sure. Is that day coming any time soon? No.”
That stance is rooted in culture, according to Schlesinger.
“I’m very protective of our tailgating culture,” Schlesinger said. “We have some of the largest parking lots of any major league stadium. That’s important for fans. I want to make it easier for fans to come here, tailgate, and park. I don’t want to make it tougher. I’m sensitive to real estate development that would encroach on our culture of tailgating. Having said that, are there opportunities to look at that in the future? For sure. What those could look like, I’m not sure.”
“There is absolutely room for both,” Burgelis said. “Tailgating is never going away.”
This bill still needs to be approved by both houses of the state legislature and Governor Tony Evers.