MILWAUKEE — After months of backroom wrangling, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers signed a bill Tuesday that spends half-a-billion dollars in taxpayer money over the next three decades to help the Milwaukee Brewers repair their baseball stadium.
The governor signed the bipartisan package at American Family Field, calling the legislation a compromise agreement between the team and the public.
“All in all, this plan ensures the Milwaukee Brewers will continue to call this city home for nearly 30 more years,” Evers said before signing the legislation on a stage set up at home plate. The stadium’s lights flashed as he lifted his pen from the papers.
The Brewers’ principal owner, Mark Attanasio and former Major League Baseball commissioner and former Brewers owner Bud Selig appeared alongside Evers. Attanasio called the signing “a special day” as he thanked legislators, Brewers employees and the public for helping him deliver what he called the best fan experience possible at the stadium. Selig said nothing but nodded as Attanasio introduced him as his mentor.
The Brewers say the 22-year-old stadium needs extensive renovation. The stadium’s glass outfield doors, seats and concourses need replacing, the stadium’s luxury suites and video scoreboard need upgrades and the stadium’s signature retractable roof, fire suppression systems, parking lots, elevators and escalators need work, according to the team.
Brewers officials warned lawmakers the team might leave Milwaukee without public assistance. Spurred by the threat of losing tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue, legislators unveiled a subsidy package in September.
Debates over handing public dollars to professional sports teams are always divisive. Attanasio is worth an estimated $700 million, according to Yahoo Finance, and the team itself is valued at around $1.6 billion, according to Forbes.
Critics, including a number of Milwaukee-area legislators, insisted the Brewers deserved nothing and the state should spend its tax dollars on programs designed to help people.
The package went through multiple revisions as lawmakers worked to find ways to reduce the public subsidy. The bill Evers finally signed calls for a state contribution of $365.8 million doled out in annual payments through 2050. The city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County will contribute a combined $135 million.
The legislation also imposes surcharges on tickets to non-baseball events at the stadium such as rock concerts or monster truck rallies. The surcharges are expected to generate $20.7 million.
The Brewers, for their part, will spend $110 million and extend their lease at the stadium through 2050, keeping Major League Baseball in its smallest market for another 27 years.
The bill easily passed the Legislature last month, with the Assembly approving it on a 72-26 vote and the Senate following suit 19-14.
Attanasio said during the signing that the Brewers have received inquiries from other cities about relocating but moving was never an option. He said he understands how painful it was for the community when the Milwaukee Braves left for Atlanta in 1966. He did not name the cities inquiring about hosting the Brewers.
Milwaukee was without a Major League Baseball team after the Braves left until 1970, when the Seattle Pilots relocated to the city and became the Brewers.
“We never considered going anywhere else,” Attanasio said. “We always wanted to be here.”
The stadium opened in 2001 as Miller Park and replaced aging County Stadium. Construction cost about $392 million and was funded largely through a 0.1% sales tax imposed in Milwaukee County and the four other counties that surround the stadium.
Evers grew nostalgic about the Brewers before he signed the legislation, reminiscing about collecting Brewer bobbleheads, how as a boy he met Hank Aaron at County Stadium and how he watched Milwaukee Braves’ pitcher Warren Spahn win his 300th game at County Stadium in 1961.
Evers has taken criticism from conservatives in recent weeks for using an alternative state email under Spahn’s name.