SBJ/February 21 - 27, 2000/No Topic Name

Pack is back with Lambeau tax plan

The NFL season has been over nearly a month, but the work is just beginning for Green Bay Packers officials. They are cranking up a lobbying campaign to build support for a publicly financed plan that will pay for more than half the ambitious $295 million renovation of Lambeau Field.

This week, lawmakers are expected to begin addressing the team's financing plan, which asks taxpayers to fund $160 million in renovation costs through a half-cent sales tax in the Packers' home of Brown County. The Packers would pay $25 million and a one-time user fee of $2,000 would be assessed on season-ticket holders to pay the remaining cost of the renovation, which will add 10,000 seats and a five-story retail complex to Lambeau Field.

It's the Packers' one shot at reconfiguring 43-year-old Lambeau Field to create a modern — and profitable — facility, and team officials are going all out to persuade lawmakers to approve the plan.

Packers officials have crisscrossed the state meeting with lawmakers to win support for the new local sales tax. The team also commissioned a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers that showed the Packers having a $144 million economic impact on Brown County. In early February, the Packers sent out 180,000 pieces of mail to ticket holders and shareholders in the NFL's only publicly held team, asking that they send the postage-paid cards showing their support for the plan to their lawmakers. As of last week, 65,000 cards had been returned, and 10,000 more were expected.

The Packers want state lawmakers to approve a bill that will create a stadium authority and put the sales tax on a referendum by the end of March. Team officials hope voters will approve the plan later this year to clear the way to begin construction by January.

While the Packers are nearly a religion in Wisconsin (the club has a season-ticket waiting list of 60,000 names), winning approval for the financing plan is no slam dunk.

In 1992, Green Bay taxpayers voted not to raise sales taxes to finance the Brown County Arena, and the Packers are also fighting backlash over a similar financing plan for the Milwaukee Brewers' new Miller Park, a project that has brought a flood of criticisms and controversy. Miller Park is almost $80 million over its $322 million budget and the park's opening was set back a year after last year's crane accident that killed three members of a construction crew.

To stave off comparisons to the star-crossed Miller Park project, the Packers have agreed to pay for any cost overruns and plan to have $24 million in a cost overrun fund. In exchange, the team will control Lambeau's construction schedule and will keep any naming-rights revenue should the Packers decide to sell the stadium's name, which officials said has yet to be addressed.

"Given the economics of the NFL, we need access to other revenue sources," said John Jones, Packers senior vice president, who refused to disclose how much the team is spending on lobbying. "Our concern is that we have to do this project the right way. We are on a fast pace."

Team officials are eager to win approval of the plan, which is expected to boost team revenue by $40 million annually. Last year, the Packers had a negative cash flow of $100,000, and officials said they won't be able to compete financially without a renovated Lambeau.

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