American Family Field repairs; what do Brewers want funding for?

Wisconsin lawmakers are negotiating using tax money to pay for American Family Field improvements.

A Milwaukee Brewers-commissioned study found the work will cost $428 million. What would it go toward? FOX6 News took an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of the ballpark Thursday to find out.

The study laid out the cost estimates: 

Architecture & Interiors: $105,722,699
Mechanical, Electrical, Plumbing and Fire Protection: $55,787,457
Structure: $62,530,819
Technology: $99,763,649
Vertical Transportation: $15,988,615
Roofs: $36,999,058
Concessions Infrastructure: $17,027,982
Miscellaneous: $34,502,760

Of American Family Field’s three original chillers – for cold water and office and clubhouse air conditioning – two are working. The third is dead. Brewers President of Business Operations Rick Schlesinger said they're past their expected lifespans, and replacements will cost more than $500,000 each. 

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"They're obsolete. Replacement parts are not being made, so we have to scrounge for them," said Schlesinger. "You’re one failed motor away from a completely useless system."

Other air conditioning units cool the electrical substation room. The Brewers estimate it’ll cost up to $1 million to replace the originals.

American Family Field circuit breaker

"The average fan is not conscious of any of this and doesn’t see it. But, if the air conditioning fails, electrical systems fail, absolutely the fans will notice it," Schlesinger said. "A lot of the electrical systems for the ballpark will not work."

Then there's the electrical substation with the park’s main circuit breaker. For that, the Brewers estimate a $3 million replacement.

"All the electrical power, the lights, the sport lights, the scoreboards, the emergency lighting, everything that this ballpark generates for power is at the mercy of the circuit breaker," said Schlesinger.

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Other units power pumps that move water throughout American Family Field.

"They’re obsolete, so again, there are no replacement parts," Schlesinger said. "Literally, if something were to break down, we’d have to find replacement parts on eBay or a secondary source," Schlesinger said. 

Like these other units, the ballpark’s four boilers have also been working since the first pitch in 2001 – heating offices, as well as water for cleaning and concessions. A Brewers-commissioned study says a typical lifespan is roughly 25 years. 

"These systems are running up to their useful life," said Schlesinger.

Two boiler burners have already been replaced.

American Family Field television camera infrastructure

Then, there's the television camera infrastructure. The Brewers estimate it’ll cost $4 million to $5 million to replace the broadcast compound and cables.

"This is original to the ballpark. So this is 1990s technology. As you can see, it’s really makeshift, ad hoc connections being done to make sure we can broadcast, because the technology for the trucks is far more advanced that what you’re seeing here," Schlesinger said. "A lot of this is abandoned or obsolete cable runs. All of this needs to be replaced with fiber. This is triax and coax cable. Much of it is antiquated, we need all fiber runs."

It’ll cost about $10 million to replace the freezers and coolers that keep food and drinks cold.

"We’ve got to keep the beer cold," said Schlesinger during the tour.

American Family Field freezer

Around American Family Field, there is cracking concrete. Just one area of sidewalk being repaired right now costs $60,000. Over the course of the next five years, the Brewers estimate the total will cost $4 million to $6 million.

"Not only is it unsightly, but it’s a trip hazard," Schlesinger said. "This is concrete that over the course of 20 years of thawing and freezing with our wonderful Wisconsin weather, the concrete is buckling. It’s an ongoing, annual process for us to repair and replace some of the concrete."

There’s a lot more in the $428 million price tag, like rusted seats and corroding metal under the roof. The governmental body that owns the ballpark already approved spending $6.5 million for a brand new scoreboard for next season –what will become the fourth largest in Major League Baseball. Other estimates include updating suites and creating more social spaces.

The study says: "upper-level group spaces geared toward young adult fans will provide a unique space for socializing while the game becomes background entertainment, rather than their primary reason for being at the ballpark."

Concrete replacement at American Family Field

Funding debate

How much will the Brewers pay, and how much will local governments have to add? Those details are being worked out.

An added sales tax in five southeastern Wisconsin counties helped build the park. The tax retired in 2020. Now, there are talks about using state money for these repairs and updates.

"Families and businesses are still struggling from the high cost of living and inflation," said Jamiroquan Kittler with Americans for Prosperity. "Those team owners, a lot of them are millionaires. Taxpayers, everyday people shouldn’t be on the hook for something that the owners of these teams can pay for."

According to the Brewers lease, the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District – the governmental body that owns the stadium – is to pay for capital improvements and keep the ballpark in the top 25% all major league stadiums.

"It is not reasonable to expect that every stadium be in the top 25% of stadiums. This is not Lake Wobegon, we can’t all be above average. And that’s frankly a terrible deal," said State Rep. Ryan Clancy (D-Milwaukee). "That price tag. I know they like to talk a lot about infrastructure. And some of it is for infrastructure. But a lot of it is kind of for re-imagining the stadium to be something that it’s not now."

American Family Field

The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution saying they didn’t want county tax money going to the project.

"Back in 2001, when the public built this stadium for the Brewers, the Brewers were worth about $200 million. They’re worth about $1.6 billion right now," said Clancy. "What I’d like to see is the Brewers re-investing some of that massive increase back into the stadium and back into the community.

The Brewers' lease expires in 2030. Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, pitched using $290 million of the state's $7 billion budget surplus for the work in exchange for the team extending its lease through 2043. That plan struck out with Republicans, but negotiations are ongoing to have the Brewers extend their lease, in exchange for state money for the ballpark. One of the discussion points now is using yearly payments – tapping into the income tax professional baseball brings in to Wisconsin, which is $24 million a year. In addition, the Brewers spark more money for the state through the sales tax.

"From every measurement, the Brewers bring to the state economy well more than what it’s looking like we need for funding for the next generation," Schlesinger said.

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FOX6 News asked Schlesinger about the possibility of the Brewers finding another city, if a deal is not reached on repair funding. "We’re not talking about relocating. We’re talking about the pathway to get this done," he said.

Schlesinger said the deal may still take a few months, but he’s optimistic for a win-win. 

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred visited American Family Field in May and said the improvements are required under the current lease: "I’m confident that the government bodies will come up with a plan to fund, that’s just an existing obligation under the lease," he said. "It’s an investment in keeping Milwaukee a Major League city."