Tony Evers’ Brewers funding proposal also includes a property tax exemption
Could this put a potential "Beer District" in jeopardy?
The Recombobulation Area is a six-time Milwaukee Press Club award-winning weekly opinion column and online publication written and published by veteran Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.
Gov. Tony Evers' proposed state budget includes nearly $300 million in public funding for improvements at American Family Field, but there’s a bit more to the proposal than this “one-time investment.”
The governor’s proposal to commit $290 million for maintenance and upgrades at the stadium would come from the state’s record surplus of more than $7 billion and is structured as a grant to the governmental entity that owns and operates the stadium, the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District. This would also require the Brewers to extend their lease at the stadium an additional 13 years beyond the current end-date in 2030, keeping the team in Milwaukee for the foreseeable future.
The governor’s office released details of this proposal on Tuesday, Feb. 14, in advance of his budget address at the Capitol in Madison on Feb. 15. The proposed state funding would be part of more than $400 million in maintenance upgrades planned for the stadium.
But that proposal is not the only measure in Evers’ proposed budget relating to the Brewers’ stadium and district.
The governor’s budget proposal also includes a “property tax exemption for baseball park development.”
This would include not only the baseball stadium itself, but also any “retail facilities, hospitality facilities, commercial and residential facilities, health care facilities, and any other functionally related or auxiliary facilities or structures.”
Here is that budget item:
This would mean any future development the Brewers might do around the stadium would not be subject to property taxes.
The Brewers and the district own the majority of the many parking lots around American Family Field, state and city records show, and two lots located north of I-94 are owned by the state of Wisconsin. The collection of parking lots outside the stadium includes more total parking spaces than that of Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, Florida, which ranks as one of the largest parking lots in the world.
A property tax exemption on stadium district grounds could complicate further plans for redevelopment around American Family Field.
A new phase of ancillary development around the stadium has been a significant point of discussion over the last year as the Brewers’ needs for maintenance and upgrades at the stadium became public. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported last February that the Brewers would likely be seeking public funding in the hundreds of millions of dollars for the ballpark.
Here at The Recombobulation Area, we then published a guest column from urban planner Robin Palm with the headline, “The Milwaukee Brewers Need a “Beer District,””
The column argued that an entertainment, commercial, and mixed-use development district equivalent to the popular “Deer District” outside Fiserv Forum could reinvigorate an underutilized part of the city and provide property tax revenue to fund upgrades at the stadium.
Because the city of Milwaukee often uses tax incremental financing (TIF) proposals for specific developments, such a property tax exemption would presumably scuttle any plans the city might have for a development along the lines of a “Beer District,” since there would no longer be any future property tax revenues to borrow against. But perhaps then the Brewers could consider development options without a TIF.
After The Recombobulation Area’s piece on the “Beer District” was published last March, the idea of more creative development outside of American Family Field drew a significant amount of attention and community discussion, with further coverage online, on radio, and on television.
Additionally, Milwaukee County Supervisor Peter Burgelis – whose district includes the stadium – advanced a resolution last year to call on officials in Milwaukee and West Milwaukee to conduct a study with the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District to examine whether property tax revenue from redevelopment of some of American Family Field’s parking lots could go toward funding upgrades at the stadium.
This was introduced in conjunction with ongoing efforts to reevaluate the future of the Stadium Freeway (Wisconsin Highway 175), a collaborative process with the state, county and city leaders that is currently in the midst of an 18-month study on converting the roughly two-mile stretch of highway to a boulevard.
The nonbinding resolution passed unanimously in July and was signed by County Executive David Crowley in September. But nothing has yet come of it.
The city of Milwaukee relies heavily on property taxes to fund its budget. According to the Wisconsin Policy Forum, 96% of local revenue comes from property taxes, making Milwaukee an anomaly among peer cities, and making any property tax payments in the city that much more important.
At a live interview event hosted by The Recombobulation Area last summer, Mayor Cavalier Johnson spoke favorably about a potential “Beer District.”
Watch or listen to that full interview here.
This discussion surrounding public funding for the Milwaukee Brewers comes not long after the five-county stadium tax that funded the stadium and district for more than 20 years came to an end. Gov. Evers signed legislation in 2019 that sunsetted the 0.1% sales tax in 2020.
This story will continue to develop as state budget negotiations continue.
Robin Palm contributed to this report.
Dan Shafer is a journalist from Milwaukee who writes and publishes The Recombobulation Area. He previously worked at Seattle Magazine, Seattle Business Magazine, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine, and BizTimes Milwaukee. He’s also written for The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Heartland Signal, Belt Magazine, WisPolitics, and Milwaukee Record. He’s won 13 Milwaukee Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards. He’s on Twitter at @DanRShafer.
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Why would Evers (presumably one among the minority of state politician NOT actively trying to harm the city of Milwaukee), do something that almost certainly cuts off any financial benefit this development would give us?
Part of me wants to watch the gymnastics as Vos & co. try to oppose this while also supporting the Brewers. Yes, I know it’s not that simple, and yes I know that’s petty. They’ve made me that way.
On a more serious note, I’m genuinely surprised at how much stadium parking there really is. I think I’ve parked in most of these at one point or another, and everything always feels packed.