By Senator Lena C. Taylor
It’s the bottom of the 9th and the home team is behind. Baseball metaphors aside, the City of Milwaukee really is struggling. We are grappling with the legacy of debt incurred in the 1990s to construct a new stadium for the Milwaukee Brewers. Now, we are facing the prospect of having to expend even more funds. Wait who’s on first? Keep reading.
Legislative Republicans introduced a proposal mandating that Milwaukee allocate $2.5 million annually until 2050. The money would be used to support a $700 million dollar plan to renovate and enhance the Brewer’s home, American Family Field. Naturally, there are concerns.
Currently, the City of Milwaukee is already committed to an annual payment of $1.06 million to settle the expenses linked to its $18 million obligation from the 1990s, which was part of the original ballpark construction. We will be done with that payment in 2029. When accounting for borrowing costs, the city will have actually disbursed more funds than was stated in the initial investment for stadium construction. Now, we are being asked to pony up new payments that stand at a daunting $67 million for renovations required by Major League Baseball.
As a point of information, the city is not the only body that pays to maintain the ballpark. The Southeastern Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District (The District) owns the majority stake in American Family Field. It was created in 1995 by then Governor Tommy Thompson and the Legislature. The District is responsible for the design, construction, financing, operation and maintenance of the stadium.
Five counties, comprised of Racine, Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee, and Milwaukee, all hold seats on the District board. We were the counties that paid the extra sales tax to help build it. Of course, we would have seats. There are other dollars that come into the mix, including from the Brewers themselves.
However, there’s a 1-2-3 double play at work. While Republicans want to force both the City and County of Milwaukee to help pay for stadium renovations, they wouldn’t necessarily have a seat on a new stadium board. Oops, did I forget to say the old District board would be dissolved under the proposed new changes.
Once again, as these talks and plans have taken place, the communities most impacted seem to have the least amount of say. In talking about the proposal, Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson said it amounts to “taxation without representation.” When the Milwaukee Bucks were looking for public support to help build their new arena, there were community discussions, a signed “memorandum of understanding,” a commitment to local employment and other value-added activities for the community.
We need to talk this deal through. We need to listen to residents. We need to engage legislators who represent the District. Residents are saying “take me out to the ball game.” Right now, it just feels like we are being pushed out of the game.