Story by Dylan Carter, WTMJ-620 Milwaukee; Photo by WTMJ News
MILWAUKEE — A portion of Wisconsin’s estimated $7 billion state surplus could go toward keeping the Milwaukee Brewers in town with a major investment to renovate American Family Field, effectively keeping the team in town for the next 20 years.
The investment, which was announced as part of Governor Tony Evers’ 2023-25 biennial budget proposal on Tuesday morning, aims to fund the upkeep of Wisconsin’s beloved ballpark. The Governor’s Office claims that this investment will save taxpayers $200 million in the long-run while generating $400 million in revenue through 2043.
“I’ve been watching baseball in Milwaukee since the County Stadium days when I had the chance of a lifetime to watch Warren Spahn’s 300th-career game there way back when,” Tony Evers stated. “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.”
The Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District is responsible for the field’s upkeep — though it currently lacks the funding to make necessary upgrades and fulfill maintenance requirements. If they fail to reach the obligations associated with the Milwaukee Brewers’ lease, the team could opt to leave the state entirely.
This proposal is meant to infuse the ballpark with a one-time sum of money as an alternative to the long-term bonding system which has been used in the past. While the spirit of Milwaukee Brewers fans and the community engagement associated with baseball are important factors to consider here, it’s the financial prospects offered by the MLB franchise which led the Governor to his decision.
Since opening in 2001, the ballpark has been responsible for $2.5 billion in economic output for Wisconsin, per Governor Evers’ office. They say that it supported more than 3,000 jobs this year including more than 1,100 union jobs.
Rick Schlesinger, President of Business Operations for the Milwaukee Brewers, remarked that he’s willing to work with policymakers to “extend the life of American Family Field” and keep the MLB in Wisconsin. He continued that this would take collaborative effort between both parties and the team’s leadership, but that they intend to extend their lease at American Family Field through 2043.
“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. “We thank Gov. Evers and the Legislature for their consideration of this issue as we work with them, the Stadium District, and all key stakeholders on next steps.”
Wisconsin’s Morning News was joined by Mark Kass, Editor-in-Chief of the Milwaukee Business Journal, to talk through the decision to allocate $290 million worth of surplus money to the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District for upkeep at the Brewers’ American Family Field.
He cited a new scoreboard, new seats and general maintenance as key results of this decision that would ultimately have a positive impact on the Milwaukee Brewers and their fans across the state.
“Think about owning a house, but obviously a whole lot larger — the roof work, the window work — things have to be done to actually maintain the stadium,” Kass said.
WTMJ’s Dominic Cotroneo highlighted that taxpayers own the stadium since it belongs to a local municipality and asked Kass whether this is ultimately a cost for Milwaukee taxpayers. He said yes, but went on to suggest that it might be necessary because of the longterm upside of keeping the Brewers in Milwaukee.
Previously, a sales tax was implemented in certain Wisconsin communities to help fund repairs and maintenance on American Family Field. This was deemed an excessive option, leading Governor Evers to introduce this one-time cash infusion as part of his budget for the year. Still, Kass remains skeptical that this is the last we’ll hear on the topic as the Governor prepares to introduce his full budget for Wisconsin over the next two years.
“I think everybody understands, hopefully, the long-term impact of having the Brewers here, but you know what happens up in Madison,” Kass said. “We don’t want to know how the sausage is made, right. I think all of us are going to see that over the next few months.
“It’s going to get ugly and in the end, hopefully it works out.”