Steffen hears opposition to bill to end Stadium District
By Kevin Boneske
State Rep. David Steffen (R-Howard) didn’t receive favorable reviews Nov. 23 when he appeared before the Village Board to talk about legislation he drafted to close the Lambeau Field Stadium District.
Steffen said the Stadium District has completed the mission for which the Legislature created it more than 20 years ago, to renovate Lambeau Field with a $295 million public investment and make the stadium financially sustainable for the future.
“The Green Bay Packers are now in the top five on just about every metric, in terms of finances for a professional football team,” he said.
Steffen said the bill he drafted is intended to:
• Permanently decommission the Stadium District, effective Sept. 15, 2022.
• Provide $600 refund checks to Brown County homeowners, estimated to total $45 million.
• Transfer Lambeau Field ownership rights, responsibilities and ancillary revenue streams to the original stadium owner, the City of Green Bay.
• Provide $12 million of new revenue to the Village of Ashwaubenon and Brown County, with each receiving $6 million.
• Inject $3 million of one-time Stadium District reserves into Brown County’s small businesses and community aesthetic efforts, with the Greater Green Bay Chamber and Green Bay Community Foundation each receiving $1.5 million.
Steffen said about $81 million exists in an operations and maintenance fund under the control of the Stadium District.
He said he urged county residents during November to complete an online survey at StadiumDistrictFuture.com to assist him in making changes to the legislation as drafted.
Steffen said several hundred responded to the survey with more than 60% indicating support for the legislation.
“The Stadium District likely has no interest in closing itself,” he said. “In fact, they have created documents on how to re-imagine themselves, and I believe they’re completely misinterpreting the law.”
The Packers released a joint statement with the Village of Ashwaubenon in support of the current Stadium District 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.”
Village President Mary Kardoskee said she received an email from former Village President Ted Pamperin, who was also the first treasurer of the Stadium District Board, going on record in opposition to eliminating the Stadium District before the closing date of 2031.
“The Stadium District still has work to be done on behalf of the residents of Brown County,” Pamperin stated in the email.
Trustee Steve Kubacki, who was previously a village administrator in Ashwaubenon more than 10 years ago, said he hasn’t heard from anyone in favor of Steffen’s effort.
“I think there’s plenty of other work that needs to be done,” he said. “I think this (legislation to close the Stadium District) was a plan that was put together without input from a lot of other entities as we go forward.”
Kubacki said the maintenance of Lambeau Field was a joint effort by not only the Packers, but also “the shareholders, and the government and the citizens of Brown County.”
“We have to be extremely careful that we do not take the dollars away from the Stadium District prematurely and have other financial issues at a later point in time,” he said.
Trustee Gary Paul compared the proposed legislation to fixing something that isn’t broke.
“(The Packers) created a district here in Ashwaubenon called Titletown,” he said. “All these things joined, and the future of where they’re going, I think this program that you’re presenting (to close the Stadium District) is not feasible to keep this progress going that the Packers are doing.”
Paul said he’s concerned about the maintenance of Lambeau Field.
“You know, they’ve got a shrine there that needs a lot of maintenance,” he said. “If they had so much money to spend, why are they selling shareholder packages again for $300 a pop?”
Stadium District Executive Director Patrick Webb said the binding referendum, which enacted a half-percent sales tax for the stadium renovation, also included funding for maintenance.
“We had to get a certification from the (Wisconsin) Department of Revenue that we had put away a sufficient amount of money, prior to us turning off the sales tax,” he said. “So, all this money is really money that the Packers negotiated as part of the legislation (authorizing the sales tax).”
Webb said the Stadium District doesn’t have “an abundance of money just sitting there that isn’t dedicated to a purpose for what the Packers want, or what the Packers had previously negotiated.”
“So every year, we calculate the amount that’s due from this fund and combine it with the ticket tax and remit it to the team, as prescribed under the legislation and the lease,” he said.
Keith Lucius, the Village of Ashwaubenon’s representative to the Stadium District, said he’s most concerned about the funded maintenance plan for Lambeau Field becoming an unfunded maintenance plan under the legislation drafted by Steffen.
“We’ve done everything right,” he said. “We’ve protected one of our most valuable assets and have reserves to cover that going forward. Why would we break that apart and create an unfunded (maintenance plan)? IF you give that money away, you’re going to have to get that money from somewhere.”