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Brewers say most urgent repairs, upgrades are needed behind the scenes at American Family Field

"We're literally going onto Ebay at some points to get spare parts or trying to make spare parts from things that don't exist," Rick Schlesinger said.
AmFam Air Conditioning Unit.png
Posted at 10:01 AM, Oct 20, 2023

MILWAUKEE — The Wisconsin Assembly passed a $546 million public funding package this week to make repairs and improvements at American Family Field, but how would that money be spent and why is the price tag so big?

The Brewers provided a tour of the ballpark to explain the need from the team’s perspective.

"From the average naked eye, you would say these things look great,” Rick Schlesinger said.

Behind the scenes at American Family Field, the Brewers' President of Business Operations showed us what fans don’t get to see. The underbelly of the ballpark is where Schlesinger says aging systems aren’t just inefficient, many are now obsolete.

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"Parts for many of these systems don't exist anymore,” Schlesinger said. “We're literally going onto eBay at some points to get spare parts or trying to make spare parts from things that don't exist."

“Based on American Family Field’s current condition, where would you rank it among Major League Baseball ballparks?” Reporter Ben Jordan asked.

"From a perspective of technology and systems I would rank us near the bottom just simply because a lot of ballparks have been renovated,” he said.

While Schlesinger says the ballpark is structurally sound, he gives the technology and systems inside of it a C- grade.

"All of this stuff is original to the ballpark so it's 24 years old,” he said.

He says the most glaring issues range from the original air conditioning units and massive freezers to the TV production equipment and the hundreds of outdated cords that provide video and audio to viewers at home.

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"You're talking hundreds and hundreds of feet of cable that has to be replaced,” he said.

Schlesinger said they need to start from scratch on most of the systems underneath the concourse within the next five to seven years.

"For all we do, we cannot have a failure of electricity, obviously. We cannot put games on if there's no electricity,” he said.

It’s why the Brewers asked its landlord, the state of Wisconsin, for a massive investment.

"This does not have to be the Taj Mahal of ballparks but it needs to be a top-shelf, first-quality ballpark experience,” he said.

The Brewers and the state paid for their own separate studies to find out how much these repairs would cost. The study commissioned by the Brewers suggested upgrades would cost $428 million, whereas the state’s study found it could cost up to $604 million.

Schlesinger says those estimates were for maintenance and repairs through 2040. The $646 funding package with $100 million coming from the Brewers just passed by the Wisconsin Assembly would add an additional decade to that timeline.

“Do you understand why taxpayers who don’t come here have concerns?” Jordan asked.

“Yeah, I would say this, the Wisconsin resident who doesn't come to the game, the ballpark generates so much revenue for the state of Wisconsin in income taxes, in sales taxes, and jobs bringing people from outside the state."

Schlesinger says if the deal is signed into law, significant upgrades would also be visible to fans beginning in 2025.

Aside from annual upkeep to the retractable roof, Schlesinger says new seats, screens, and concessions are all a part of the plan.

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Additionally, $25 million would be spent to allow the ballpark to be used into the winter.

"Winterizing would mean that we can close the roof, heat the building, run power, run water so we can have concerts, we can have basketball games we can have hockey we can have other events in the winter when it's normally shut down,” he said.

The study commissioned by the Brewers found that it would cost $1.6 billion to build a brand-new ballpark with a retractable roof and 40,000 seats. He said the obvious choice was to stick with American Family Field and keep it maintained for the next generation.