As GOP Brewers bill calls for $200 million from city and county, local leaders see parking lots as funding source

NOW: As GOP Brewers bill calls for $200 million from city and county, local leaders see parking lots as funding source

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Republican legislative leaders rolled out a bill Monday committing about $700 million toward renovations and maintenance at American Family Field that would keep the Brewers in Milwaukee through 2050.

Of that funding amount, more than $600 million would come from the public. Under the Republican proposal, the state of Wisconsin would provide $411 million while Milwaukee County and the city of Milwaukee would provide a combined total of $202.5 million.

The Brewers would contribute $100 million, with their annual rent payment going from $1.2 million to $3.3 million. 

As a press conference at the ballpark Monday, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), along with State Rep. Rob Brooks (R-Saukville) and State Sen. Dan Feyen (R-Fond du Lac), said it would be cheaper for the state to keep the team. The state owns and operates American Family Field through the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District, and Vos reasoned the worst-case scenario was losing the team and being stuck with a vacant ballpark.

"If the team leaves, it is more expensive for the state," Vos said at the news conference.

The state's share of the funding would be tied to projected income tax revenue from Brewers players and staff, along with that of visiting players. Supporters of a public funding package note that revenue would also disappear if the team left.

Athletes on pro sports teams pay state income taxes on a prorated basis. For instance, a player whose team plays six of their 162 games in Milwaukee would be taxed by Wisconsin on 3.7% of his salary.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates Wisconsin will collect $13.4 million in income taxes from Major League Baseball personnel in 2024; it projects that amount will increase to $37.1 million by 2050.

The city and county do not have the ability to impose an income tax, and if they're unable to make annual payments of $2.5 million and $5 million, respectively, those dollars will be taken from their annual state shared revenue payments.

"Five-million dollars a year is a lot," said Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Peter Burgelis, whose district includes the stadium. "Our zoo is asking for $16 million for the rhino exhibit, transit safety and security is $3 or $4 million a year, correctional officer pay is probably gonna be near $10 million."

The fiscal bureau's study estimated Milwaukee County would generate $1.3 million in sales tax dollars from the stadium in 2024, and that amount would increase to $2.7 million in 2050. For the city, the sales tax revenue projections were $3.5 million in 2024, increasing to $7.5 million in 2050.

For their part, the Brewers have publicly supported both the Republican plan and a previous proposal by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. The Evers plan called for the state to dip into its surplus and pay $290 million upfront as part of the state budget. 

Republican legislative leaders stripped that plan out of the budget, instead insisting on a local contribution from Milwaukee and Milwaukee County.

"I understand the debate and discussions about the local contribution and the relevance of that, how much it's gonna be," Brewers President of Business Operations Rick Schlesinger said. "From our perspective, we're putting in a sizable amount of new money. We're asking just for the state to fund our landlord under an obligation that was made many years ago."

Less Parking = Local Funding?

Some local leaders have suggested one new source of money for the city and county could be property and sales taxes from the development of land currently used for parking lots around the stadium.

Such a change would require the state to hand over some of that stadium district property. Burgelis said some of the land along the Menomonee River, which cuts through the parking lots, could become mixed-use developments.

"It's a great part of Milwaukee County in the heart of Milwaukee County," Burgelis said. "And it's an opportunity that I think the state needs to really consider."

Schlesinger said the Brewers would prefer to keep those ideas on the bench, at least for the time being.

"Could someday some development around the ballpark be a reality? Sure. Is that day coming any time soon? No," Schlesinger said. "I'm very protective of our tailgating culture. We have some of the largest parking lots of any Major League stadium, and that's important for fans."

In July 2022, the Milwaukee County Board unanimously passed a resolution calling for some of the parking lots to be converted into developable land. The resolution also called for the purchase of land southeast of the stadium that was once Komatsu's North American headquarters. 

With the mining corporation relocating to the Harbor District, the resolution suggested the land could instead serve as part of a residential and retail hub that brought more year-round activity to the area.

However, Burgelis added there haven't been any studies on how much revenue such developments could raise or exactly how many of the stadium's 13,000 parking spaces would be converted.

"That would really be up to a developer and the Brewers working with the stadium board to figure out what the right balance is," Burgelis said. "There's a lot of room for tailgating; tailgating's never gonna go away."

On Monday, Vos said he wanted the legislation to focus on the stadium itself. The bill includes funding for winterization of the ballpark, which Schlesinger said would allow the stadium to host concerts, college basketball and volleyball, or even a professional hockey game, during the winter months. 

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