Monday, August 14, 2023

Brewers stadium talk? Cmon! We got plenty of time. Let's worry more about the NL Central

After a rough two weeks, the Brewers righted the ship over the weekend, sweeping a dreadful White Sox team in Chicago, and extending their NL Central lead to 3 ½ games over the Reds and Cubs.

Yet right before that White Sox series, as we start to feel a little better about the Crew’s prospects in 2023, we get this eye-rolling story thrown into the mix.

The Milwaukee Brewers could start looking for a new home this fall if state and local officials fail to reach agreement by then on a taxpayer-funded package to fund improvements to American Family Field required in the team’s lease with the state, sources say — a process that might lead them to the boomtowns of Charlotte, North Carolina or Nashville, Tennessee.

Months after Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers proposed spending $290 million in taxpayer dollars to help ensure the Brewers stay in Wisconsin, and after the Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred urged lawmakers to act quickly, a deal has not yet materialized.

That has pushed Brewers officials to a point of contemplating whether communities with fast-growing populations, and no Major League Baseball teams, might be options if state and local officials don't produce enough funding for stadium renovations, sources with knowledge of the dynamic told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
OH PLEASE! This again?

Look, the Brewers’ lease for Miller Park AmFam Field isn’t up for 7 more years, so why are team officials leaking this out now? Sure, Governor Evers’ idea of a $290 million state subsidy for fixups over the next 20 years was shot down by WisGOPs in budget talks before the first pitch of the Brewers’ season. But there’s a lot of time to work out a good deal that keep the Crew in town for another generation, maintains and improves the ballpark, and doesn’t rip off taxpayers.

That said, it does seem that Assembly Speaker Robbin’ Vos wants to get a Brewers stadium bill figured out sooner than later (well, if he doesn’t get sidetracked by threatening Supreme Court justices to try to keep his gerrymandered maps). On that front, WisPolitics had some good details on what might be in such a bill.
Vos charged state Rep. Rob Brooks with working on a framework. The Saukville Republican told WisPolitics last week the package has evolved into a $698 million proposal that would cover 27 years.

It includes $463 million from the state through taxes off Milwaukee Brewers players and personnel, as well as visiting players. It calls for an additional $100 million from the team through things like higher rent than what it’s currently playing. And local governments would be on the hook for $135 million, or about $5 million a year.
Ooh, I kind of like the idea of making the team chip in more in rent as a way of having them contribute toward repairs (after all, how many tenants get to take the operating profits of the property, like the Brewers do?).

But that “local governments” part is where things might get tricky, especially after all of the conditions that Vos and the GOP Legislature put on them with the shared revenue bill earlier this year. Beck’s Journal-Sentinel article mentions why, but also includes an interesting way forward for the locals.
Milwaukee city and county officials have opposed providing local funding for the ballpark. They say the main economic benefits generated by the Brewers are state tax revenues.

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley in June signed a resolution, passed unanimously by the County Board, opposing any county funds used for American Family Field's renovations. But in recent days, Crowley has expressed a willingness to find a way to free up local revenue that could be used for stadium renovations, according to CBS58.
Remember that Milwaukee County just got a 0.4% sales tax passed into law last month, and might some portion of that be used for the Brewers ballpark work, with the argument being that the County will get back some of that money (and then some) from sales tax generated in and around the ballpark?

Seems like the County Exec might be OK with that.

Crowley's communications director, Brandon Weathersby, told CBS 58 Crowley was pursuing the changes at the request of Democratic leadership in the state Legislature.

"We proposed technical changes to the Act 12 language to allow us to use sales tax dollars to further reduce our structural deficit," Weathersby said. "And provide more financial flexibility for Milwaukee County to provide a local contribution [to stadium repairs.]"…

Weathersby said Crowley's office was working with the GOP-controlled Legislature to let the county spend those dollars on more than one type of pension-related debt payment. Weathersby said state law currently only lets that revenue cover pension obligation bonds.

He said Crowley wanted to use sales tax money to pay off additional types of pension-related debt. That flexibility would then allow other dollars to go toward ballpark renovations, although Weathersby followed up to say funding stadium repairs was not a top priority.
But then the County Board would also have to OK this move, and the County Board said in May that they didn’t want to pay ANYTHING toward the Brewers stadium.

Here's my advice to the County (and City for that matter) - if you’re not keen on kicking back some of your new sales tax funds toward the Brewers’ stadium (and I totally get why), why not go to what I suggested when MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was in MKE in May to give some light extortion on the stadium. SET UP THE BEER DISTRICT.

Would a standalone Brewers bill allow for some of the lots and land around AmFam Field to be developed and add tax base to the City/County (along with a higher levy limit, maybe?), in exchange for the property tax exemption for that land being dropped? And how much would need to be sent to the Brewers to either buy that land and allow it to be sold/developed, or to reimburse the team for lost parking revenues?

Related, why can’t this Beer District and the nearby area (think Bluemound Road and the related ballpark bars) be part of a special taxing district whose funds go to the ballpark? This is what Minneapolis did to help pay for the new Vikings Stadium and other downtown attractions, which includes an extra sales tax for “live entertainment” in the area, and includes additional taxes on liquor and restaurants in designated neighborhoods and sports facilities.
The extra sales tax in the Beer District could be sent to the Ballpark District that is the actual owner of AmFam Field to the ballpark, you allow for more development on the east and southeast parts of the Brewers’ property, and put that property on the tax rolls.

And thinking it over more - do we even need to reimburse the Brewers for parking revenue that may be lost? Especially as a trade-off for where the rent isn't raised as much because the Beer District is paying for the team's upkeep and repairs to the ballyard?

On the local side, the City and County should get a higher tax base, and could even lower the property tax rate for homeowners in the process. Lastly, if you never go to a Brewers game or hang out in the Beer District, you’ll never pay a dime toward the stadium upkeep and repairs (much like how they don't pay much/anything toward FiServ Forum) so that should tamp down on voter resentment.

There are a lot of ways this can go, and we can take our time to get it right. So let’s shut down the “OMIGOD! The Brewers could leave in 7 years!” talk – from both the politicians and the team. It pisses off fans and others in the state, and it’s an especially stupid strategy because the threat isn’t immediate.

Instead, work behind the scenes over the coming months on a package, and let’s have the only headlines about the Brewers being stuff that relates to their quest to get this message back up on the AmFam Field scoreboard in late September of this year.


  1. More taxpayer $$ for sports teams?? Really? For my money. bye, bye Brewers.

    1. I get that argument, and I certainly think there are bigger needs out there than just the Brewers. But some of that was taken care of with the shared revenue bill and the budget, and I think there is enough of a "jock tax" argument (where MLB players pay state taxes for all games they play in Wisconsin) that makes it OK to chip in some investment.

      I do think it should come with development opportunities, instead of having all this land sit empty and untaxed, and that the Brewers can pay more themsleves in rent as compensation for getting this extra help.