Governor proposes funding to upgrade American Family Field

February 14th, 2023

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers is proposing $290 million in the next state budget for the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District to fund maintenance and upgrades to American Family Field over the next two decades as part of a plan that would require the Brewers to extend their lease at the ballpark through 2043.

Evers is scheduled to present his full biennial budget to the Wisconsin Legislature on Wednesday, kick-starting a legislative process that will unfold in the coming months. Funds for the one-time cash infusion for the stadium district would come from the state’s approximately $7 billion surplus.

“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,” Evers said in a statement. “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 20 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 Brewers and Evers say the funding is necessary to close a gap between the stadium district’s reserve fund and what the district will need to meet the obligations in its lease with the team, which include everything from the boilers in the basement to keeping American Family Field’s unique, fan-shaped retractable roof in working order. The stadium district is the Brewers’ landlord, created by the state in the 1990s to plan, finance, construct and operate the ballpark with private and public funds. Public funding included a 0.1% sales tax imposed on the five counties surrounding the stadium, which opened as Miller Park in 2001 and was renamed American Family Field in 2021. The stadium sales tax sunsetted in 2020.

The Brewers’ current lease runs through 2030, followed by a series of five two-year club options through 2040. As part of Evers’ proposal, the Brewers would be required to extend the lease through 2043. As part of that extension, the club would commit to its own spending for future discretionary stadium projects.

Evers’ proposal follows two studies of the cost for the stadium district to meet its lease obligations for another two decades. The Brewers commissioned the first analysis from Tennessee-based Venue Solutions Group, which estimated a cost of $428 million. Separately, the Evers administration asked for a review from another firm that specializes in such assessments, California-based CAA ICON, which put the cost as high as $604 million. The Brewers and the Evers administration settled on a more than $400 million plan.

“The Milwaukee Brewers are committed to working with policymakers on both sides of the aisle to extend the life of American Family Field and help make Major League Baseball possible in Wisconsin for the next generation,” Brewers president of business operations Rick Schlesinger said in a statement. “This will require creative solutions that garner bipartisan support. We oppose the return of the five-county tax, and we are prepared to commit to a lease extension for the Brewers to remain at American Family Field through at least 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. As we said when the stadium district’s funding shortfall first became known, we have remained focused on gathering facts and information that everyone can rely upon through a full capital needs assessment. This process of having Venue Solutions Group perform a capital needs assessment, combined with additional diligence by the state’s consultant CAA ICON, has established those facts.

“American Family Field has had a $2.5 billion statewide economic impact, created thousands of jobs, and made it possible for a team in a small market like Milwaukee to compete. We thank Governor 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.”

The Brewers’ assessment of the financial impact of the stadium comes from a 2020 study commissioned by the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce. According to that study, the Brewers spent about $107 million to maintain and enhance Miller Park from 2001-19 in addition to paying $19.8 million in rent to the stadium district. In August 2021, Evers appointed MMAC president Tim Sheehy chairman of the stadium district board of directors.

The Evers administration anticipates $400 million in revenue over the next 20 years should the stadium lease be extended.

“The Brewers are not only a cherished part of our state’s heritage but an essential part of Milwaukee’s and our state’s economic success,” Evers said. “Using just a small portion of our state’s historic surplus, we can not only save over $200 million in taxpayer dollars in the long run, but keep good-paying, family-supporting jobs here and ensure the Brewers remain in Milwaukee and continue to play a critical role in our state’s economic success for another two decades.”