MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A coalition of Wisconsin business, tourism and health care leaders, former office holders and others announced Wednesday that it is working to find a bipartisan solution to keeping the Milwaukee Brewers in the state.
The Home Crew Coalition was formed as Gov. Tony Evers and the Brewers have teamed up behind the governor’s proposal to spend nearly $300 million on repairs to American Family Field. In exchange, the baseball team said it would extend its lease at the stadium by 13 years, through 2043.
The proposal would need to be approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature. Evers and the team want to pay for the repairs by tapping part of the state’s projected $7 billion budget surplus. Republicans have voiced support for keeping the Brewers in Wisconsin, but have criticized Evers for not including them in the development of his plan.
The coalition did not specifically endorse that plan in announcing its formation. Rather, it said it was dedicated to ensuring that the Brewers remain in Wisconsin “for the next generation,” said the group’s leader, Omar Shaikh, a Milwaukee-area restaurant owner and developer.
“The Milwaukee Brewers are a point of pride for Wisconsin and it’s important that we do what is needed to ensure Major League Baseball is preserved in our state for the next generation,” Shaikh said in a statement. “Through our collective efforts, the Home Crew Coalition aims to deliver that message statewide and ensure the Brewers can call American Family Field their home for years to come.”
Evers has touted his proposal as a way to keep a Wisconsin tradition alive, while also helping a business that creates a large number of jobs and tax revenue for the state. Without it, Evers suggested, the Brewers might leave.
However, publicly funding privately owned sports teams has been hotly debated across the country, including in Wisconsin, in recent decades. Numerous economic studies have shown that public stadium financing is a bad deal for many communities.
In 1995, then-Gov. Tommy Thompson convinced fellow Republicans in the Legislature to support a deal that paid for the construction of Miller Park to replace Milwaukee County Stadium largely with a 0.1% sales tax on Milwaukee County and four surrounding counties.
That tax was very controversial, with Republican state Sen. George Petak recalled from office in 1996 after he switched his vote from against the plan to being in favor of it. The tax ended in 2020.
The Brewers played their first game at the stadium in 2001 and it was renamed American Family Field in 2021. The Brewers current lease calls for the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District to cover repairs. But Evers and the team have said the district does not have enough money to pay for what is needed and the state surplus provides a chance to fund it without implementing a new tax or borrowing money.
Other members of the coalition announced Wednesday include Mike Grebe, a retired attorney and former chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin; Dan Kapanke, a former Republican state senator and owner of the La Crosse Loggers baseball team; Ashok Rai, president and chief executive officer of Prevea Health; Peggy Smith, president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee and Andrew Disch, political director of North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters; Tracy Johnson, president of the Commercial Association of REALTORS Wisconsin; Jim Villa, CEO of NAIOP Wisconsin and Rob Zerjav, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.