(WFRV) – A bill aiming to close the 21-year-old Stadium District program is being discussed, but what is stopping some people from voting for it? What will it have to do with the Lambeau Field Lease and the possibility of breaching trust?
In December of 2021, Local 5 wrote an article on Representative David Steffen’s (R-Howard) proposed Stadium District Closure bill. As a way to get another side of the story, Local 5 asked Aaron Popkey, Director of Public Affairs, if the Packers had a response to Rep. Steffen’s proposed bill and the changes that would come with it.
Rep. Steffen says the bill will prioritize Lambeau Field maintenance, road repairs, law enforcement, and $700 checks to homeowners, but Popkey says it’s not that clear cut.
Taxes used for Lambeau
On Sept. 12, 2000, Popkey says community members voted to support the referendum that specified how tax proceeds would be used for Lambeau Field. With that, a trust fund was created for certain costs.
“The trust fund is administered under the 2001 Lambeau Field Lease that was approved by the Green Bay Common Council and committed the trust fund exclusively to Lambeau Field operation and maintenance costs for the duration of the Lease,” said Popkey.
By 2015, the fund had gained enough to make all of its required payments through 2031, and Popkey says the sales tax was stopped or ‘retired.’
Ticket tax – no excess revenue?
Popkey says passing the legislation also authorized a ticket tax that allowed proceeds to be used for Lambeau Field purposes.
The lease imposed a 10% ticket tax and, in doing so, Popkey explains it contractually committed proceeds to Lambeau Field operation and maintenance costs for the current and any future extended terms of the lease.
“To the notion that there will be excess revenue, it is not possible since the proceeds are contractually committed to Lambeau Field. Furthermore, operation and maintenance costs have always exceeded ticket tax revenue. The team makes up the difference,” said Popkey.
Ultimately, the new bill Rep. Steffen is proposing cannot change anything in the current Lambeau Field Lease.
“The new ticket tax contemplated by the proposed legislation has already been contractually disclaimed by the City under the Lease and, if nevertheless imposed, would result in contractual indemnification liability on the part of the City,” Popkey explained. “The proposed legislation does not, and cannot, change those or any other terms of the Lease. Lease provisions can only be changed by agreement of all parties to the Lease.”
Moving forward or backwards?
Popkey goes on to say the proposed legislation from Rep. Steffen would completely undo the funding for Lambeau Field operation and maintenance costs.
“Over $50 million of the sales tax trust funds dedicated by the Legislature, the Brown County voters, and the Green Bay Common Council to Lambeau Field purposes would instead be diverted and doled out in 2022 to select Brown County residents and a variety of other purposes unrelated to Lambeau Field. Ticket tax proceeds and the miscellaneous sales proceeds contractually committed to Lambeau Field would be allowed to be diverted to purposes unrelated to Lambeau Field,” explained Popkey.
“Those diversions would create a very substantial dollar for dollar deficit in the funding for Lambeau Field. The deficit would have to be made up in some combination from the City’s general fund (i.e., property taxes) or by the Packers.”
Creating trust and not breaking it
In the end, Popkey says the Stadium District continues to work well and the confidence it created has allowed the Packers to invest $500 million more in the stadium within the past decade and, when complete, invest in the adjacent Titletown, a development that will exceed $300 million of investment when it is finished.
“The proposed legislation would position [The Packers, the City, and the Stadium District] instead as adversaries as they would be forced to sort out who would be responsible to make up the operations and maintenance funding deficit,” explained Popkey.
“It would constitute a breach of trust and an illegal evisceration of the Lambeau Field Lease. It would leave no choice other than immediate major litigation to prevent it from taking effect. To the extent that the Packers are already forced to spend time and resources opposing illegal proposed legislation, we are considering using the indemnification provisions of the Lease and other rights to recover legal fees from those responsible, including the State and the City to the extent of their affirmative participation.”
Extending the Lambeau Field Lease
Work has already begun in extending the Lambeau Field Lease. According to Popkey, the Packers, the City, and the Stadium District had begun work for the extension a few years ago.
“These parties will continue that plan, one which honors the commitment of the community, as it is the best method for continuing the long-term success of Lambeau Field and furthering the significant economic development that has accompanied it,” explained Popkey.
The lease itself is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2032.