Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

What’s Actually In Brewers’ Ballpark Plan?

New seats, lots of new roofs and the end of kegs.

By - Feb 28th, 2023 04:43 pm
American Family Field. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

American Family Field. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Starting April 3, American Family Field will host its 23rd baseball season. But the Milwaukee Brewers have already made major headlines this year for what they plan to do for the next 20 years.

Governor Tony Evers is proposing to allocate $290 million from the state’s $7.1 billion surplus to cover $428 million in planned improvements and upgrades to the stadium through made 2040. The Brewers’ lease would be extended from 2030 to 2043 as part of the agreement.

The team identified the projects through a capital assessment led by the Tennessee-based Venue Solutions Group (VSG).

Some of the projects are routine measures, like repaving parking lots and replacing carpet, while others are upgrades intended to draw more fans, such as upgrading concessions and building new group spaces on the upper level.

The ballpark’s unique architectural feature, a fan-like retractable roof, is also a major cost driver. Roof-related fixes account for nearly 10% ($37 million) of the planned spending, and that doesn’t include any replacement of mechanical or electrical equipment used to make the roof move.

Through the team’s current lease, both the state-controlled stadium authority (Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District) and the team jointly own and are responsible for major capital repairs and maintenance of the facility. VSG said both the Brewers and stadium district have worked well to maintain the ballpark. “However, the most aggressive [preventative maintenance] program does not ultimately prevent equipment and system components from wearing out and/or becoming obsolete,” says its report.

The stadium district ended the 0.1% sales tax that paid for such upgrades in 2020. But before doing so the stadium authority hired Morentenson Construction to do an analysis estimating how much was needed to cover all future maintenance and capital repairs not just through the end of the Brewers’ lease in 2030, but until 2040. The report came up with a total price tag of $84 million, but the Brewers later said the study was not comprehensive enough and hired VSG to do a study. The Brewers did not oppose the vote to end the sales tax, but warned that the reserve fund created would be inadequate.

“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 and those like them can be met,” said Brewers president of business operations Rick Schlesinger in a statement. “As we said when the possibility of a 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 (VSG) 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.”

The Evers administration had hired CAA ICON to conduct its own analysis of the Brewers’ study and largely concurred with the findings, except for the cost. CAA estimated the costs could come in at $540 million to $604 million using a less-detailed estimating method. Both parties agreed to use the VSG cost estimates for establishing the public funding agreement.

The state’s money would be paired with approximately $70 million remaining from the reserve fund created by the stadium authority.

Unlike the original stadium agreement, which required the team and stadium authority to share the costs of maintenance and repairs, this simply awards the money to the team. Evers’ proposed budget does not require the Brewers to make the specific improvements proposed in the study to receive the $290 million. The Secretary of the Department of Administration would need to sign off on releasing the funding after the stadium district and Brewers come to a spending agreement and extended lease. The district must provide ongoing reports to the state. The state grant would be deposited up front and grow with interest to cover $358 million in planned costs and $20 million in inflation. The cost estimates for each item in the VSG plan also include a 15% contingency.

The Wisconsin State Legislature must still approve the plan, which is currently included in the 2023-2025 state budget proposal.

Our report below includes the five most expensive items from each expense category.

Architecture and Interiors – $105.7 Million

Takeaway: No level of the stadium will be left untouched as part of the capital plan, but the phasing will have much of the work stretched out over several years. In addition to replacing all of the seats, everything from the recycling facility ($2.63 million) to the glass doors ($560,000) will be overhauled or replaced. Yes, that includes the umpires’ locker room ($370,000), the press box ($1.5 million) and all of the wayfinding signage ($3.18 million).

  • Club level upgrades – $11.5 million
  • Field Level and Loge Level concourse infrastructure replacement – $7 million
  • Replace outfield exterior panels – $5.3 million
  • Replace seats – $5.06 million
  • Field level upgrades – $3.42 million

Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing and Fire Protection – $55.8 Million

Takeaway: A number of back-of-the-house items didn’t make the top-five list, but those items still have substantial costs. They include a series of boiler, chiller and cooling tower replacements, as well as emergency generators, lighting controls and fire protection system upgrades.

  • Renovate restrooms (all levels) – $8.9 million
  • Interior lighting replacement – $4 million
  • Building automation system replacement – $3 million
  • Main electrical substation work (transformers and switchgear) – $3 million
  • LED sports lighting – $2 million

Structure – $62.5 Million

Takeaway: All of the items enumerated in the structure section of VSG’s report are basic maintenance items for the building and surrounding grounds, with the exception of the bollards and barriers addition. The bollards are designed to prevent vehicles or other large objects from ramming the ballpark. The federal Safety Act is anti-terrorism legislation from 2002 that establishes a liability shield.

  • Structural steel recoating – $15 million
  • Parking lot resurfacing – $9.26 million
  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security Safety Act compliance (bollards and wedge barrier) – $5 million
  • Replace pedestrian plazas – $4.59 million
  • Replace pedestrian walkways – $1.26 million

Technology – $99.8 Million

Takeaway: The continued advances in video technology are quietly costing millions of dollars at the ballpark. All of the top five items are related to upgrading video equipment, much of which has already been replaced at least once. The VSG report says the main scoreboard is an “older generation” that should be replaced in advance of the 2024 season, and then again in 2034. It was last replaced in 2011. The broadcast compound, used for production trucks, is reported to be “grossly inadequate” for modern needs.

  • Video displays and scoreboards – $12 million
  • Broadcast compound – $4 million
  • Replace public area televisions – $1.8 million
  • Update broadcast infrastructure and equipment – $1.5 million
  • IPTV (internet protocol television) distribution – $1.35 million

Vertical Transportation – $16 Million

Takeaway: Despite being a constantly moving system that circulates millions of people every year, escalators have a remarkably long life. Each is estimated to last 20 to 25 years.

  • 10 escalators – a minimum of $750,000 each
  • Nine elevators – a minimum of $300,000 each
  • Eight platform (wheelchair) lifts – $45,000 each

Roof – $37 Million

Takeaway: American Family Field’s signature architectural element is its retractable roof, and it’s not cheap to maintain. The membrane that protects the metal roof structure needs to be replaced, at a cost of approximately $9 million. Outside consultant Hardest & Hanover, in a 2019 report, estimated that the mechanical and electrical equipment that powers the roof should last through 2040. Taxpayers and the baseball team should hope the roof continues to age as expected. “The cost to address any catastrophic roof failure is too significant to estimate and cannot be covered by insurance,” says the VSG report.

Additionally, there are more roofs on the ballpark than just the retractable structure. The VSG report includes estimated costs to replace every roof in the complex, including the roof on Bernie’s Dugout in left field ($2,500).

  • Fiberglass panels at roof line – $6.1 million
  • Membrane replacement of five movable roof panels – $5.68 million
  • Membrane replacement of two fixed roof panels – $3.15 million
  • Main roof on 3rd base side – $480,000
  • Main roof on backfield – $252,000

Concessions – $17 Million

Takeaway: The idea of a tap beer and a baseball game might soon only be a memory, hard to fathom for a team that once had its mascot slide into a mug of beer. VSG cites a nationwide shift away from kegged beer at stadiums and the ballpark’s deteriorating draft system in recommending a “cost-effective” move to all pre-packaged products that produce “no waste” (in terms of wasted beer in the long tap lines, not in terms of packaging). Replacing the draft system would cost millions it says. Taxpayers do get savings on kitchen equipment; it lasts longer than manufacturer estimates because it isn’t used as frequently as it would be at a conventional restaurant.

  • Equipment – $3.36 million
  • Refrigeration – $3.29 million
  • Exhaust and ventilation – $415,840
  • Flooring – $119,111

Miscellaneous – $34.5 Million

Takeaway: This section is an even larger estimate than the other sections. It includes a line item for expected mandates from Major League Baseball (MLB) and another for expected government mandates. Past mandates have included extended safety netting around infield seats and, as seen in an above item, the $5 million cost to add bollards and other barriers around the stadium. The mandates, under the lease, are all the responsibility of the stadium district.

  • MLB Mandates – $15 Million
  • Governmental Mandates – $15 Million

PDF copies of the VSG and CAA studies are available on Urban Milwaukee.

Categories: Real Estate, Sports, Weekly

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