Transcript: Brewers executive Rick Schlesinger on developing around American Family Field
The "Beer District"-type of development was discussed at length during a State Senate committee hearing on the stadium bill last week.
The Recombobulation Area is a ten-time Milwaukee Press Club award-winning weekly opinion column and online publication written, edited and published by longtime Milwaukee journalist Dan Shafer. Learn more about it here.
The deal to fund hundreds of millions of dollars for upgrades and renovations at American Family Field is just about rounding third and headed home. It has passed with overwhelming bipartisan margins in the State Assembly, has the support of the mayor and county executive in Milwaukee, and Gov. Tony Evers has said that he will be signing whatever passes.
The final hurdle is the State Senate. There, while Republicans who introduced this deal hold a two-thirds supermajority, reports have indicated they need Democratic votes in order for the bill to pass — just as was the case for the state’s bill to fund Fiserv Forum.
The Brewers stadium funding bill had a public hearing last week in the Senate Committee on Government Operations. On that committee sit three Republicans (Duey Stroebel, Julian Bradley, Dan Feyen) and two Democrats (Kelda Roys, Dianne Hasselbein).
Here at The Recombobulation Area, we have looked at many aspects of this deal in a variety of ways, since it became public that the team would be seeking new funding from taxpayers.
One of those ideas that we’ve advocated for several times is what we’ve referred to as a “Beer District.” This was first discussed as part of the column “Tear Down the Stadium Freeway in Milwaukee” as part of our Milwaukee Press Club Gold award-winning “Expanding the Divide” series on the proposed expansion and widening of the I-94 East-West Corridor, and later in a guest column by city planner Robin Palm — “The Milwaukee Brewers Need a ‘Beer District.”
So, it piqued our interest when Rick Schlesinger, president of business operations with the Milwaukee Brewers, discussed the issue at length during his testimony at the State Senate’s public hearing on Wednesday, Oct. 25.
You can watch that portion of the testimony at this direct link.
Palm’s column was written when the projected ask from the Brewers was about $100 million, a number that has, over the course of about 18 months, ballooned into more than $545 million in public funding from the state of Wisconsin, Milwaukee County, and the City of Milwaukee, combined. Part of the idea was that real estate development could help create a more “self-sufficient” model that, while not providing a full replacement of the revenue generated by the sunsetted five-county stadium tax, would “supplement the revenues of the Brewers and the Stadium District,” as Palm wrote, not be a silver-bullet solution on its own (You’ll see why in the transcript why we’re noting that distinction).
The Brewers have been resistant to notions of development in and around the stadium grounds, including the more than 12,000 parking spaces surrounding the ballpark, but they have budged ever-so-slightly on that notion. The legislation as it stands includes a “pathway to development,” which requires a task force of sorts to study possible development around the stadium. That is required to be completed within two years, but would include no requirements for any actual activity to take place at the end of that two-year study. The Brewers could absolutely go through the motions of doing this study and then determine to do nothing at the end of it.
So, development around the stadium was the topic of inquiry for Schlesinger from State Sen. Kelda Roys (D - Madison) in committee last week. Responding to questions on development surrounding the ballpark — aka, the “Beer District” — Schlesinger had a lot to say.
To me, at least, it is a tremendously fascinating — sometimes maddening, other times enlightening — piece of testimony, that touches on everything from the challenges of surrounding development to parking to Milwaukee’s lack of public transportation options headed to the ballpark.
We’ve taken the time to transcribe that full exchange here, for the record.
(An AI service was used for this transcription, some words might not have been captured with 100% accuracy.)
State Sen. Kelda Roys: So, I wanted to just talk a little bit about development. And when you visited our caucus, I will generously say you're pretty cool to the suggestion that we consider developing parts of the parking. I guess I'm curious if you can share, you know, the Brewers’ (stadium) does have more parking than many of the other stadiums, especially for being in what is a fairly urban setting. It's got a big footprint, but we haven't been able to get hard statistics from the Brewers as to what the usage is on parking, that seems, if not proprietary, at least not readily available.
Rick Schlesinger, president of business operations, Milwaukee Brewers: First of all, the fact that I have the reputation of being hostile to development is unfortunate, because that's clearly not my DNA. One of the jobs I have at the Brewers is to generate revenue so that I can, you know, pay the players and keep great executives like Cecilia (Gore), and invest in the ballpark and do other things you need. And real estate development is, if it's if it's viable, and it's financially logical, absolutely, we want to do it.
The reason I may have looked tepid on the real estate development is because I felt that there (were) some unrealistic expectations about real estate development being a solution to the funding situation we find ourselves in. And I didn't want anybody to be misled and think that, well, we don't need to give the stadium district a lot of money, because there's this great real estate development and from that are going to, you know, the bounty of wealth and riches and benefits and all that stuff will will eviscerate the need for a lot of funding. So, it wasn't anti-development, it was like, I didn't want people to be misled to be thinking real estate development would be a solution to a funding bill that needs to get passed — from our perspective — now.
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