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Wisconsin Republicans float changes to win approval for funding Milwaukee Brewers stadium repairs

Posted at 10:07 AM, Oct 26, 2023

MADISON (AP) — Wisconsin Republicans floated changes Wednesday to a funding proposal for Milwaukee Brewers stadium repairs including a new tax on non-Brewers events, seeking to win over skeptics of the current plan intended to keep the team at American Family Field until at least 2050.

A Brewers official testified at a state Senate hearing Wednesday that the team didn't want to leave the city, saying it didn't make sense to build a new stadium and that the priority was making urgent repairs extend the life of the 22-year-old ballpark.

“We want to be here for the next generation," said Rick Schlesinger, president of business operations for the Brewers. "The last thing I want to do is figure out a way to leave. ... I’m not here threatening to leave. I want to be here.”

While the stadium funding plan cleared the Assembly with bipartisan support last week, it does not have a majority of Republican support yet in the Senate. It must pass both houses in identical form before it can be sent to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who has voiced support for the current plan.

More changes may yet be needed to win over wary Senate Republicans, like increasing payments from the Brewers to decrease the state’s contribution, said Republican Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu.

“We’re working to try and get to 17,” LeMahieu told reporters, referring to the number of Senate votes needed to pass the bill. “I believe we can get there.”

Republicans hold a 22-11 majority and LeMahieu said he hoped the measure would win bipartisan support in the Senate as it did in the Assembly.

The proposed tax on non-Brewers events and other changes are being discussed and may be introduced, bill co-sponsor Rep. Robert Brooks testified at a Senate committee hearing.

Such a tax would apply to all non-Brewers events, everything from monster truck rallies to George Strait concerts, Brooks said.

Taxing Brewers games is a “non-starter” with the team, which does support a ticket tax for non-Brewers events, Brooks said.

The ticket tax could offset the state's $411 million contribution, Brooks said. There's also talk of forming an advisory board that includes the Brewers and local governmental officials to look at development of land around the stadium, including parking lots, Brooks said.

Under the current plan, the city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County would put forward a combined $135 million in addition to the state share. Milwaukee's leaders support the proposal, which calls for less money from the city and county than an earlier version. The Brewers would contribute $100 million and agree to extend their lease at the stadium through 2050.

Democratic Sen. Kelda Roys, of Madison, said she wanted to see the state's share decrease.

“Every dollar that we’re spending on the Brewers is money that can’t go to our other priorities," she said.

Public funding for professional sports facilities is hotly debated across the country. The Brewer’s principal owner, Mark Attanasio, has an estimated net worth of $700 million, according to Yahoo Finance. The team itself is valued at around $1.6 billion, according to Forbes.

The Brewers are pushing for renovations at 22-year-old American Family Field, arguing that glass outfield doors, seats and concourses should be replaced and that luxury suites and video scoreboards need upgrades. They said the stadium’s signature retractable roof, fire suppression systems, parking lots, elevators and escalators need work, as well.

Upgrades could include winterizing the stadium so it can host concerts, conventions and other sporting events throughout the year, said bill co-sponsor Republican Sen. Dan Feyen.

Lawmakers trying to broker a deal have warned that without one, the Brewers and the tax revenue they generate will leave the state.

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, baseball operations at the stadium currently generate about $19.8 million annually in state and local taxes. That is expected to grow to $50.7 million annually by 2050, according to the fiscal bureau.

American Family Field opened in 2001 as Miller Park, replacing aging County Stadium. Construction cost about $392 million and was funded largely through a 0.1% sales tax imposed in Milwaukee County and four surrounding counties. The stadium was renamed American Family Field in 2021.