With the Brewers renovations bill signed, here's where things stand on possible parking lot development

NOW: With the Brewers renovations bill signed, here’s where things stand on possible parking lot development

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- After Gov. Tony Evers signed a bill Tuesday committing about $500 million in public funding for renovations at American Family Field, the Brewers are officially set to play in Milwaukee for at least 27 more seasons. Something that remains uncertain is whether any of the current parking lot space will be converted into new developments. 

The stadium funding law calls for a task force to explore the idea of developing some of the lot space. City and county officials have voiced support for such development; they see it as an opportunity to bring in additional sales and property tax dollars. Supporters also maintain it's a far better use of land considering much of the lot space is unoccupied, even during high-demand games.

"Any time we're seeing a sea of parking lots, we want to look at that as an opportunity for any type of development," Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said after the bill signing.

Brewers officials were apprehensive when asked about the idea this summer, saying they wanted to protect the tailgating culture that has become synonymous with the team, while also ensuring any loss of lot space wouldn't worsen gameday traffic.

Following Tuesday's bill signing, however, Brewers President of Business Operations Rick Schlesinger told reporters he was optimistic there will eventually be a development plan that satisfies both the ballclub and local leaders.

"Our job with the task force is to meet with the city, local and state officials and figure out what's available," Schlesinger said. "What can be done, how to address the hurdles, and come up with a solution that makes sense for the region."

While a group of business leaders pushed policymakers to find common ground on a stadium funding plan, Omar Shaikh, the chairman of the Home Crew Coalition, said he opposes developing any of the parking lots into a "Beer District."

"What about all the bars and the restaurants up and down Bluemound [Rd.], Greenfield [Ave.], National [Ave.]?" Shaikh said. "What about all the bars and restaurants that get people pre-game, post-game? What about all the bars that shuttle people in? What does that do to them?"

Shaikh, who owns Carnevor Steakhouse and the 3rd Street Market Hall, said it was unrealistic to compare development around American Family Field to the Deer District adjoining Fiserv Forum. Shaikh maintained a key difference was the density downtown allowed for more development compared to the ballpark, which is locked in by I-94 to the north and Wood National Cemetery to the west.

"I mean, if you look at how many apartments there are here within the vicinity, 2,200 hotel rooms within the vicinity, convention center two blocks away, there's a big difference between where Fiserv [Forum] is located in the density and where AmFam Field is located," he said.

One element of the stadium funding plan that could make new development more attractive is the winterization of American Family Field. Schlesinger has noted that could lead concerts, monster truck rallies, college basketball games and pro wrestling events being held during the offseason, making the park more active year-round. 

At the same time, the state's commercial realty industry has reservations about whether developers have much interest in such a project.

Tracy Johnson, president and CEO of the Commercial Association of REALTORS Wisconsin, suggested the conversation about adjacent land redevelopment might not even be in the first inning.

"I think people think that development is easy -- 'If you build it, they will come' -- and that's not always the case," Johnson said in an October interview. "You've got a stadium that's located quite a distance from downtown."

Johnson added there's already vacant office space downtown, and it's unclear how much demand there'd be in building apartments on the lot when other apartment projects are already in the works.

"If you oversupply the market, you're gonna just crush the existing supply," Johnson said. "And I think that really needs to be considered, whether it's office space, whether it's retail, or whether it's apartments."

To date, there have not been any in-depth studies on the feasibility of developing the lot space, which could also include exploration of adjoining properties; that would include land to the east, across the Stadium Freeway, such as the Komatsu plant, since the mining company has moved its headquarters downtown.

That will change with the task force's creation. Who will serve on that body and when they'll begin their research is yet to be determined.

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