Brewers here to stay, Gov. Evers signs stadium funding bill

NOW: Brewers here to stay, Gov. Evers signs stadium funding bill

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- It's official. The Milwaukee Brewers are here to stay now that Gov. Tony Evers signed sweeping legislation to maintain and upgrade American Family Field.

The $500 million public funding deal will keep the team committed to Wisconsin through 2050.

During a ceremony at AmFam Field, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle joined Gov. Evers and Brewers officials to celebrate the “historic” new law that comes after months of negotiations to strike a deal that will fund renovations at the ballpark.

“All parties came together, including, believe it or not, Democrats and Republicans, and we know that is extremely rare,” said Rep. Christine Sinicki, a Democrat from Milwaukee.

Under the bill, state taxpayers will contribute between $350 and $366 million, depending on how much a new ticket tax on non-baseball events generates. In recent history, Major League Baseball personnel, including the Brewers and visiting players, have paid between $10 and $12 million per year in state income taxes. 

The deal also includes contributions from the team, as well as Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, which would both pay $67.5 million each year until the team's lease expires. The Brewers agreed to pitch in $150 million.

This summer, rumors started to surface that the Brewers could potentially relocate to a new city without funding from the state and local governments. Since then, lawmakers worked to ensure that didn’t happen.

"Losing this team would have had a ripple effect felt by families and communities across the state even far beyond Milwaukee,” Evers said. “I always knew we could get this done.”

Last month, lawmakers in both chambers passed the funding deal after a series of changes to get the proposal across the finish line.

Robert Baumann, an economics professor at College of the Holy Cross, has studied public funding for sports facilities. He, like most economists who've explored the topic, concluded the public rarely makes back what it spends in stadium and arena deals.

At the same time, Baumann noted the Brewers renovations agreement is more favorable than other recent stadium deals. For instance, taxpayers will pay $1.2 billion to build the Tennessee Titans a new stadium in Nashville.

That stadium, originally known as Adelphia Coliseum, opened in 1999 compared to American Family Field, which initially opened as Miller Park in 2001. The Milwaukee ballpark has not had significant renovations since 2011.

The agreement comes as the Brewers' current lease had another seven years remaining. In Baltimore, negotiations are coming down to the wire with the Orioles on a deal that includes $600 million in state-funded municipal bonds. The Orioles' current lease at Camden Yards ends at the end of this month. 

"Through the lens of recent history, it's not that bad," Baumann said. "Through the lens of necessity, should any of these things be happening at all? My view would be no."

The new funding will go towards things such as a new boiler room, chillers, a scoreboard and winterizing the ballpark to host off-season events.

“The fans will notice the scoreboard from 5,900 square feet to 12,000 square feet. That’s a huge change, great for fan experience,” said Rich Schlesinger, president of business operations for the Milwaukee Brewers.

Omar Shaikh chaired the Home Crew Coalition, a collection of business owners who pushed for lawmakers to reach an agreement that kept the Brewers in Milwaukee. 

Shaikh said the winterization would be key because it'd allow the stadium to host more non-baseball events during the offseason. The Brewers have said their ticket data show about half of the people who've attended concerts at American Family Field come from out of state.

"Would they be spending money here in Southeast Wisconsin if the Brewers, if the stadium and the Brewers weren't here? No," Shaikh said.

Like most publicly funded projects, the proposal sparked some controversy.

However, in the end, many Republicans and Democrats agreed it's cheaper to keep the team than to lose them.

“Ultimately, not everyone is going to be convinced, but from my perspective, since we are taking in more revenue that we are taking in for the ballpark and we are keeping this facility, this ballpark in great shape,” said Schlesinger.

The new law includes a ticket tax on non-Brewers events that will be raised incrementally throughout the team’s lease. That means a $2 ticket fee on concerts and other events held at the ballpark would increase beginning in 2033.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates the ticket tax would generate $20.7 million over the team's lease. The Brewers estimate the tax will end up bringing in $36 million. 

Possibly redeveloping some of the parking spaces to generate more money for the city and county will also be studied by a task force, under the law.

The next step is negotiating a new lease with the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District, a state-created agency that technically owns and operates the ballpark.

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