If the rumors are true, city leaders from and around Milwaukee are preparing to give the Milwaukee Brewers roughly $520 million dollars in taxpayer money to upgrade America Family Field. Over the last few years, we have seen the Brewers asking for all sorts of different amounts of public money. Last year, they were thinking of asking for just $100 million of public money. More recently, they have been asking for $300-$430 million.
Today, the latest stories have local leaders giving the team at least $520 million. Yet I still want to know how local leaders got to these numbers. Why allow for the team to be given $500+ million? How did we arrive at the Brewers needing this much money?
We got here because of three reports:
1) 2019 — M.A. Mortenson
In 2019, the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District (SWPBPD), which oversees the Brewers ballpark, hired M.A. Mortenson “to study all projected needs through the year 2040”. This study found that the ballpark required “$84 million to cover all costs through 2040”. As the Lake County Tribune wrote, this study was “very comprehensive and detailed” and included a number of changes and upgrades. Included in the long list of changes were things like replacing every seat in the ballpark, adding new “air-handling equipment” to the ballpark, maintenance to the 10 elevators and a number of other things.
One city board member told Urban Milwaukee last year that after seeing this report, the city asked the Brewers if they had any issue with the report. The answer? “If the Brewers had any concerns, they kept it to themselves”.
2) 2022 — Venue Solutions Group
In 2019, a few months after the first report was issued, the Brewers suddenly felt that the previous report wasn’t good enough. Therefore, they hired Venue Solutions Group to do the same study. Our good buddies at Venue Solutions Group (more about them later) have quite the past.
But before VSG could get into this project, COVID-19 hit the world and everything got pushed back. When the report was finally finished in 2022, it stated that the costs of “major capital repairs and necessary improvements” would be $428 million. Yes, that is $344 million more than the previous study.
3) 2023 — CAA Icon
After the Brewers released the VSG report, the city hired their own group to review the VSG findings. Who do they hire? CAA Icon. The group, who touts themselves as “trusted by owners” and an “industry-leading owner’s representative”. Perfect. Who better to look at this report then sports owner’s favorite group of people?
This report took less than a month to finish and yet somehow came in at a steeper price point than VSG’s amount. According to CAA, the ballpark could cost “$540 million to $604 million to extend the useful life of the Stadium through 2040”. That is $488 million more than the first report.
4) VSG and CAA Icon
After looking at the CAA Icon report, the Governor of Wisconsin “agreed to the $428 million estimate from VSG, with another $20 million to cover inflation’s effects on those costs”. Now we at least know that state and city leaders are, in fact, basing their decision on how much taxpayer money to give off these reports. That should alarm everyone living in Wisconsin. It is alarming because both VSG and CAA Icon have a history of being laughably incorrect and way-off-base with reality and economics.
Let’s start with VSG. These are the same comedians who, even if we adjusted for inflation, claimed that the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, received $1.3 billion in renovations from 2006-2017. Setting aside the fact that numerous parts of the report were incorrect (such as using expenses from changes made so that the Marlins could play in the stadium), the actual cost of the renovations wasn’t near that number.
Last year, the city of Nashville and the owners of the Tennessee Titans were attempting to figure out whether to renovate the current stadium or to build a new one. The Titans released their own study in 2021 showing a cost of a new stadium being $1.8 billion. Then, the city of Nashville hired VSG to determine the city’s obligation to renovate Nissan Stadium under the current lease. However, VSG came back with a report that reviewed the numbers used in the Titans proposal. Nowhere would you be able to find a section on the city’s obligations to renovate the stadium under the current lease.
“Some Metro Council members say this is not what they asked for because Mendes says the report is validating the cost of the renovations the Titans want since it’s based off of their conceptual design done in 2021”— Fox17.com, 2022
The VSG report stated that renovating the current stadium would cost $1.8 billion, while building a new one would cost $1.2 billion. It must be a coincidence that VSG’s $1.8 billion dollar figure is almost the same as the Titans $1.8 billion figure from their projections? Anyway, when you dig into the VSG report, what you find is that renovating the stadium would really cost less than $370 million. The reason for the $1.8 billion number is because VSG added on things like “new club facilities, suites, concessions and dining options, video board and technology upgrades, and a $48 million new “exterior skin” for the building”. Nashville Council Member Erin Evans summed up VSG’s work: “The report was a complete waste of money”.
As Tennessee Lookout wrote last year, VSG’s numbers made little sense to anyone, including city leaders:
The cost estimates have puzzled many observers, both the increases and the amounts themselves. The latest renovation estimate is seven times the original cost to build. It exceeds the cost of other stadium renovations projects, including $550 million for Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium in 2015 and $500 million forecast for the Bengals’ stadium this year, as well as the projected costs to build a new $1.4 billion stadium in Buffalo. “That’s not credible,” Kennesaw State University economist J.C. Bradbury said of recent renovation estimates. “If you go and look at past stadium refurbishment of other stadiums, no stadium spends more than a few hundred million at the high-end of refurbishments.” — TennesseeLookout.com, 11/16/22
Now let’s talk about CAA.
CAA Icon recently got called out by many for their “terrible study” done for the Buffalo Bills. In their report, CAA Icon claims that a new stadium would generate $793 million annually for Buffalo and Erie County over the next 30 years, generate $2 billion economic impact for New York due to construction of the stadium and create over 10,000 new jobs statewide. Sounds great. Only, a few problems.
First, the way that CAA got their job-created numbers is still unknown. Seems like kind of a big thing to be unknown on. A sports owner whop wants a new stadium must promise a significant number of new jobs if the owner wants it to be approved. It is also something used by local leaders quite a bit when they are forced to defend why they voted for giving many millions to a billionaire owners of a sports team.
The report states that building a new Bills stadium would create 10,572 jobs statewide: 6,842 created from the construction of the stadium, 1,032 created by “suppliers and vendors for the stadium project” and 2,697 created due to “spending on goods and services by direct and indirect stadium workers”. The Governor of New York went to every media outlet to tell them about the creation of these 10,000 jobs.
The Investigative Post got curious about where exactly the figure of 10,572 jobs came from, so they asked the Governor’s office.
“How did the analysis arrive at that number, and how many were direct vs. indirect jobs? The governor’s office refused to release the details”— Investigative Post, 09/20/2022
The CAA Icon report also does little to account for existing spending and struggles to explain why the entire report is done as if it were a fact that Buffalo was relocating/leaving without a new stadium. I guess you can’t blame the Governor of New York for hiding this document from public view for as long as she could. If you were an owner of a sports team, why wouldn’t you hire these guys? They will peg a stadium cost to whatever you want!