A state lawmaker is proposing to dissolve the Lambeau stadium district, shifting upkeep responsibilities to Green Bay

Richard Ryman
Green Bay Press-Gazette
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GREEN BAY – Rep. David Steffen proposes to eliminate the Green Bay/Brown County Professional Football Stadium District and shift its costs and responsibilities to the city of Green Bay.

The proposal would refund $45 million to Brown County homeowners, give $8 million to other entities, and $19 million to Green Bay to cover a portion of the cost of maintenance and meeting other lease obligations with the Packers. Lambeau Field is jointly owned by the city and the stadium district, and the Packers' lease is with both entities. 

The money would come from a fund established to make mandatory payments to the Packers for operations and maintenance at Lambeau Field for the remaining 12 years of the lease. The fund is administered by stadium district under an agreement that dates to the renovation of Lambeau Field in the early 2000s. 

Steffen, a Republican from Howard, said his is a draft proposal and he'd like public input on his ideas. He created a website, stadiumdistrictfuture.com, which includes a survey, draft language for legislation and other information. He said the proposal is his idea and he had not shared details with anyone, including fellow legislators, before Monday

"This is a rough draft," Steffen said. "If people in the public, elected officials … have input, I want it. Let's have that discussion."

The Packers and the village of Ashwaubenon issued a joint statement calling for a continuation of the stadium district.

"The Stadium District continues to work well and the Packers and Village of Ashwaubenon support the current structure. The Legislature designed and the voters deliberately chose the structure of a single-purpose, non-political entity to oversee Lambeau Field," the statement said. "Voters chose to support that specific structure by binding referendum. Sales tax was collected specifically for the maintenance of Lambeau Field through the terms of the lease. It is fiscally and operationally responsible to continue to use the funding for the purpose it was collected.

"The District was not designed to dissolve until it fulfilled its obligations in the lease, which runs to 2033. The District's work is not complete."

The stadium district was created for the Lambeau Field renovation that was funded by a Brown County-only half-cent sales tax. The renovation was completed in 2003 and the sales tax was retired in 2015. The district continued in operation, monitoring the maintenance of Lambeau Field, administering the selling of memorial bricks, and dispersing economic development grants and payments to the Packers. The district has three part-time workers.

The stadium district board is composed of three appointees from Green Bay, three from Brown County and one from the village of Ashwaubenon.

Lambeau Field is reflected in a puddle before the start of the NFC divisional playoff against the Los Angeles Rams on Jan. 16, 2021, in Green Bay, Wis.

Steffen took a different view  than the Packers and the village during a press conference on Monday, where he unveiled his draft legislation. He said the stadium district fulfilled all its requirements by 2015 and it is a "statutory artifact" that had no reason to continue.

"There was no one … who was anticipating this entity existing this long," he said.

The district had three responsibilities, including overseeing the construction costs related to Lambeau Field, ensuring the bonds were properly paid and overseeing the sales tax through its duration, he said.

"Nothing in the statutory directives exists for its continuation beyond 2015," he said.

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That has not been a universal position. The Packers, the stadium district and the city are parties to a lease agreement and there is a question, raised by a stadium board analysis and others, of whether the lease can be changed without the Packers' consent. Removing one of the parties to the lease could be considered a change.

Steffen said all the requirements of the lease would remain in place and nothing in his proposal would have a negative financial impact on the Packers. 

District administrative costs, about $120,000 a year, are unnecessary and could be absorbed at no cost by the city, he said.

His proposal would take money from the escrow fund established to pay for ongoing operations and maintenance costs for the final 12 years of the lease and distribute it to residents and other entities. 

Steffen said "every homeowner" would receive a $600 check. The money collected by the stadium district was a sales tax, paid by anyone purchasing goods in Brown County, and not by a property tax, which means a large segment people who paid the sales tax would not receive a payment.

Other components of the proposal include:

  • $2 million to Ashwaubenon for infrastructure-related investments near Lambeau Field. The village also would get revenue from Packers license plates, estimated at $200,000 a year, to be used for public safety, physical infrastructure and aesthetic improvements near Lambeau Field. 
  • $2 million to Brown County for infrastructure-related investments near Lambeau Field, and $200,000 a year from license plates sales to be used for public safety, physical infrastructure and aesthetic improvements near Lambeau Field. 
  •  $1.5 million to the Greater Green Bay Chamber for small business grants and programs.
  • $1.5 million to the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation for community outdoor public arts grants.
  • $19 million to the city of Green Bay. The city also would get revenue from a 10% Lambeau Field ticket tax, estimated at $7.8 million a year, $200,000 annually from special events (when such events take place), and $50,000 a year from brick and tile sales, with the money going to Discover Green Bay

The Packers' lease with the city and stadium district requires the team be reimbursed for operations and maintenance costs determined by a formula. The reimbursement increases 2% a year, and for 2019, the previous year when the stadium was fully used, the payment was $13.2 million. The ticket tax provides about $7.8 million per year. The city would be responsible for making up the difference, likely through borrowing.

"The city will receive some excess money (the $19 million) and also will have control over the ticket tax. That will be part of what will offset those expenses," Steffen said.

The use of the license plates and brick sales money, which also went to the operations and maintenance fund, might not be easily redistributed, since elements of those programs are included in the stadium lease and would require lease amendments approved by the team.

Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach said the county was still learning details of the proposal, so he could not comment on its specifics.

"Historically, the stadium district board has worked. The renovation was paid for through the sales tax, which all Brown County residents contributed to," he said. "(The board) allows representation of the county."

Calls to Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich and state Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Allouez, who is a stadium board member, were not returned by publication time.

Steffen said Lambeau Field is worth $700 million and his proposal would give the city direct control over its most valuable property.

The stadium district had the option of dissolving after the sales tax was retired, but as mentioned, the Packers and others wanted it to continue. The board itself determined that doing so would be a complex process involving a number of issues not clearly spelled out in the legislation that created it. 

Steffen said Monday anything done by legislation can be undone by legislation.

Contact Richard Ryman at (920) 431-8342 or rryman@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter at @RichRymanPG, on Instagram at @rrymanPG or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RichardRymanPG/.

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