MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) — The head of Major League Baseball said Thursday at American Family Field he was confident politicians would find common ground on a plan that puts public money toward renovations the Brewers say are necessary at their ballpark.
Commissioner Rob Manfred met with reporters for about 15 minutes before the Brewers hosted the San Francisco Giants. Almost all of the questions involved the ongoing talks about how to fund stadium repairs and, if they don’t happen, whether MLB would support relocation of the Brewers.
Manfred told reporters, “They’re not going to let that great community asset fall into decay because the fans love this place.”
Manfred said he felt much better about the Brewers’ situation than that of the Oakland Athletics, who seem destined to move to Las Vegas after failing to reach a stadium deal that would keep the team in the Bay Area.
“I remain confident that the Brewers are a great asset for the fans here in Milwaukee,” Manfred said. “And that the governmental entities are gonna find a way to fund the obligation they agreed to when this ballpark was built.”
Manfred insisted the Brewers and the ballpark are a financial engine in the area, despite skepticism from economists over the actual benefits.
When asked if not renovating the stadium could force the Brewers to leave Milwaukee, Manfred said, “There is not a scenario that is in my mind at the current moment.” But he cautioned against not funding the renovations now.
Manfred’s visit came on the same day the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors issued a rare unanimous vote against putting any more county money toward renovating the ballpark. Conservative and liberal supervisors both agreed the county was facing enough fiscal hurdles without having to spend additional dollars on a privately-owned professional sports team.
“When I talk to my constituents who live within eyesight, within view of the stadium, they don’t support — not one person has supported another stadium sales tax,” Supervisor Peter Burgelis, whose district includes American Family Field, said. “What they do support is a sales tax that funds transit, parks and gives some property tax relief.”
Conservative Supervisor Steve Taylor, the chair of the Board’s Economic and Community Development Committee, has repeatedly said the Republican-led plan to include city and county funding is being “rammed down our throats.”
Supervisor Ryan Clancy, a Socialist, said, “Giving public dollars to billionaires and getting nothing in return is bad policy.”
If there is public funding for the stadium, it’s not clear what the structure would look like. The Brewers have said, in a report they commissioned, American Family Field needs more than $400 million in upgrades by the time the club’s lease in Milwaukee ends in 2030.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has proposed putting nearly $300 million in state aid toward the stadium project upfront, forecasting interest would then cover the total bill, and keep the team in Wisconsin through 2043. Evers has argued that makes the most sense, given there’s room in the upcoming two-year state budget with Wisconsin sitting on a $7 billion surplus.
However, GOP leaders who control the legislature maintain Milwaukee and Milwaukee County should have to contribute as well, something county officials have bristled at.
The Brewers maintain they’re sticking to the original 1995 agreement that funded the construction of what was then Miller Park. Under that bill, a state-run stadium district would oversee the use of money generated by a 5-county, one-cent sales tax in Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Washington and Waukesha counties.
The district allowed the tax to sunset in 2020, creating the current funding gap. The tax was originally meant to sunset in 2010.
Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman, who was in the legislature in 1995 and voted for the 5-county stadium tax, said at Thursday’s meeting he felt misled by the Brewers again asking for public aid.
“It’s being turned on us all these years later,” Wasserman said. “And I’m supposed to vote for this again? Hell no.”
Manfred said, under the current lease, the district was ultimately responsible for finding a way to cover needed repairs. A CBS 58 reporter asked Manfred why, at the end of the day, the public should put more money into the ballpark, as opposed to public safety and schools.
“The choices that are made between the various ways that public funds can be spent are choices that legislators have to make,” Manfred said. “What I can say is that this ballpark is an asset.”
Right now in Oakland, the A’s ownership group is engineering a move to Las Vegas, in part because that city refuses to give in to demands for more public money for stadium upgrades.
We asked Manfred if Oakland is a warning to Milwaukee. He said, “I like the way I said it better than the way you asked it. Milwaukee is the antithesis of what has happened in Oakland, and I’m going to do everything in my power to make sure that it stays that way.”
Manfred said he has not met with Wisconsin lawmakers to talk about stadium funding and does not see a need to do so right now.
But he said he is focused on resolving the issue and securing a long-term extension that will keep the Brewers in Milwaukee for years to come.