Jeramey Jannene

Milwaukee Still Paying $1 Million Per Year For Brewers Stadium

New request for $2.5 million annually comes as city still paying prior costs

By - Sep 19th, 2023 12:37 pm
American Family Field. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

American Family Field. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

The City of Milwaukee hasn’t finished paying off its 1990s debt to build a stadium for the Milwaukee Brewers, and now it’s being asked, and possibly forced, to pay even more.

Legislative Republicans unveiled a plan Monday that requires the city to pay $2.5 million annually through 2050 to support a $700 million proposal to repair and upgrade American Family Field.

But until 2029, the city is already paying $1.06 million annually to close out costs associated with the $18 million contribution it was required to make in the 1990s to build the ballpark. When borrowing costs are factored in, the city will have paid far more than $18 million to build the stadium and is now being asked to contribute another $67 million to renovate it.

The city’s initial contribution was part of a $72 million infrastructure subsidy, while the since-retired five-county 0.1% sales tax paid for the stadium itself.

A 1998 letter from Mayor John Norquist, Council President John Kalwitz and finance committee chair Marvin Pratt details how city officials felt forced into making the first contribution by state officials.

“The City had been told since 1991 by a variety of State officials that some assistance from the state would be forthcoming to help meet the City’s $18 million contribution. While the State did help Milwaukee County fulfill an identical contribution, the State has failed to fulfill its pledge,” wrote the three to the full council. “While the state has let us down, we will not let the project suffer, while at the same time protecting City of Milwaukee taxpayers from making direct property tax contributions to the stadium.

Milwaukee has made the payment annually by transferring the funding out of its Transportation Fund (formerly the Parking Fund). But using parking revenues prevents using those funds for property tax relief, lowering parking fees or citation amounts or providing additional city services.

The debt itself was formally retired in 2016, and the city is now transferring money from the Transportation Fund to its Debt Reserve Fund to reimburse itself for its upfront contribution.

In a joint press release led by Council President José G. Pérez and Alderwoman Marina Dimitrijevic, Common Council members called the latest financial request “a curveball that is hard to ignore” given that they’re still paying for the first request.

But even if the city does ignore it, language in the Republicans’ bill would take the money. Should the council not authorize an annual $2.5 million payment, the state would strip the money from the city’s shared revenue payment.

Speaker Robin Vos unveiled the proposal Monday in front of a sign that said “no new taxes,” but the legislative leader is expecting the city to provide the funding from a new sales tax it hasn’t even begun to levy yet.

Mayor Cavalier Johnson and Pérez secured a 2% sales tax and a $22 million shared revenue increase to address a fiscal crisis triggered in large part by the fact that shared revenue has been frozen for nearly two decades.

“We wanted to make sure we were in a position where the City of Milwaukee could pay its bills,” said Johnson on Tuesday morning while briefing the media following his budget address. “When the proposal came out that we would be losing some of that money to pay for improvements at American Family Field, the thought I immediately had was, ‘we haven’t even started to implement that tax yet.'”

Johnson said the city would attempt to negotiate changes to the bill. “That’s still something that we are working out,” he said.

But adding salt to the wound, the city’s initial contribution helped pay for the “sea of parking” that Johnson would like to see the Brewers develop with taxable buildings. The Brewers pushed back on the idea Monday and said the team is concerned about anything that would impede tailgating or driving to the game.

“They have a lot of parking. I think they are smart enough to discover how to incorporate development over at American Family Field and still keep enough parking for folks to be able to tailgate,” said Johnson, noting that Lambeau Field and Camp Randall still have tailgating but already have fewer parking spaces. “I understand the argument, I appreciate the argument, I still want them to do more… there is a bigger, better, high-use for surface parking lots.”

UPDATE: Details on the flow of the city’s money internally was updated after initial publication.

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Categories: City Hall, Politics

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