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Is an entertainment district an option at American Family Field?

AmFam Field
Posted at 9:32 AM, Oct 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-10-06 10:34:57-04

MILWAUKEE — A day after the Brewers season ended, the great hibernation of American Family Field is underway. Outside of lawn maintenance and any private events, the lights will remain off at American Family Field for the next five months, but it won’t be the only lack of electricity at the ballpark.

The roughly 160 acres of parking spaces will largely be empty as well.

American Family Field parking lot
American Family Field parking lot occupies roughly 160 acres.

For more than 150 days a year, the mirage of Midwest summers and ballpark days disappear and a concrete desert island occupies the space south of the Stadium Interchange.

Regardless of who pays for the stadium repairs to climatize the aging facility, one man feels it will still largely remain an island for none.

“They mentioned Taylor Swift,” Robin Palm, an urban planner based in Milwaukee said. “She’s selling out the Rose Bowl. She’s not coming to a baseball stadium.”

Palm says despite the plans to make the ballpark a 365-day venue, he doesn’t feel a baseball stadium is an appealing venue for non-baseball events.

“We have to acknowledge, baseball stadiums are awkward,” Palm said. “Sure, you can get a P!nk concert. But they don’t really work for other types of events. You’re not going to get a comedy act in a baseball stadium, they’re at smaller arenas like Fiserv or convention centers that are in that 40,000 to 100,000 space. Events are big business and it’s kind of hard for something like the Brewers’ stadium to compete, [unless] there’s stuff around it.”

Enter Beer District, an idea very similar to Deer District at Fiserv Forum. Palm feels adding development around the stadium, could utilize the blank space to draw in people even when there’s no event going on inside the stadium.

“Things to do other than sit in a stadium,” Palm said. “Hey, I can stay in this hotel right here or hey, I can get a drink and don’t have to go over to Story Hill to do it. Then, they can compete in that market and get winter events.”

Palm feels the tax revenue by this development is what could eliminate the need for taxpayer dollars. Thursday’s hearing included Rep. Robert Brooks mentioning amendments to the plan that would bring the taxpayer’s responsibility down from $200 million to roughly $135 million. He also discussed adding an amendment to create a group that would study developing the stadium’s parking lots into a restaurant district that could provide more tax revenue.

But there’s resistance from the Brewers. While expressing an openness to the idea, Brewers VP of Business Operations, Rick Schlesinger put an emphasis on retaining the tailgating traditions of baseball fans.

“The reality is, we have a tailgating culture and I’m respectful for that,” Schlesinger said. “The comments I’ve made publicly are not to be anti-development, but we have to look at certain realities and hurdles with our site that are somewhat unique. None of those are impossible to overcome but are significant, certainly in the short term.”

Because the property is owned by the state, Schlesinger says the option to develop on the current parking spaces is a tall task.

Governor Tony Evers has expressed concern about how much the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County would have to contribute under this plan but admitted, he’ll likely support any stadium proposal that comes across his desk.