Milwaukee Brewers to look at entertainment district idea, ahead of major cost debate at stadium
The Milwaukee Brewers say they'll take a closer look at a county supervisor's idea to develop an entertainment district near American Family Field, as a way to help pay for future stadium improvements.
That word comes as the team, the public and politicians have entered another era of debate over how to pay to keep big-league baseball in Milwaukee.
A newly-introduced resolution before the Milwaukee County Board calls for a study of whether to build an entertainment district in some of the stadium parking lots south of Interstate 94 and east of the State Highway 175. The Brewers and the stadium board of the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District, which owns the ballpark and leases it to the team, say the resolution caught them by surprise this week.
At a stadium board meeting Tuesday, Brewers Operations President Rick Schlesinger said there are a lot of assumptions in the resolution.
"That I wouldn't say are faulty, but probably require further development. Obviously, the parking lots here mean a lot to a lot of people. Obviously, our tailgaters like the lots," he said.
But speaking later with news reporters, Schlesinger said all ideas should be on the table. "It behooves us to look at all the options. That includes the real estate. That includes getting in other businesses that looks at different ways to generate revenue that makes sense for us. We're a professional sports team. So logically doing things that relate to the sports team makes sense. Doing things on our property? Could that make sense? Yeah, we'd have to do a development plan. We'd have to analyze the economics of it," he said.
The discussion of an entertainment district comes a few months before the Brewers are expected to release a team-funded study of major maintenance needed at the 21-year-old stadium. It's believed the price tag will exceed the $87 million reserve fund the stadium board has set aside, a figure that was largely built up before the board two years ago halted a long-existing five-county sales tax for the stadium district.
During Tuesday's meeting, Schlesinger repeatedly called the funding gap a shortfall. Milwaukee attorney Mark Thomsen, who has been on the stadium board for 18 years, took issue with that word, later explaining to WUWM,
"You know, what's very important for the public to know is that for years, the board asked the Brewers, our experts, over and over again, 'Do we have enough money to go forward?' And the answer was yes, and so, my concern was with Rick's use of the word shortfall, which implies that somebody ran the numbers wrong before, as opposed to there's a new world, there are new issues, there are changes, and what do we do going forward? That's the point," Thomsen said.
Schlesinger told the stadium board that in some ways, it is a new world with inflation driving up costs and teams in other cities also looking at big maintenance projects at their ballparks.
But Schlesinger said he's confident the Brewers, the district board, and local and state politicians can come up a solution that's fair.
"The key thing it's got to be fair to the taxpayers, absolutely. The taxpayers of this state have an expectation of their elected officials, and all the people in this room, and including the Brewers, as trustees of this fantastic facility that we act very prudently and responsibly, with whatever funds we are talking about," he said.
The debate roughly 25 years ago over building the stadium was very contentious, with Racine state Sen. George Petak, a Republican, being recalled from office a few months after casting a key vote for the sales tax. The amount of money this time around isn't expected to be nearly as large. But Mark Thomsen said a lot of people will be involved in what may be a tough discussion.
"As all discussions with money, there's going to be some toughness," Thomsen said.
The discussion will ramp up once the Brewers release their maintenance analysis of American Family Field.