Packers will seek tax increase in Brown Couty for stadium

Associated Press Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) The Green Bay Packers want Brown County residents' support for a 0.5 percent sales tax to pay for renovating historic Lambeau Field, and team president Bob Harlan said Saturday the Packers are confident the community will come through.

The Packers hope to raise $160 million from the sales tax in Brown County that would cost people an extra five cents on every $10 spent to help lift the team's tumbling financial standing in the National Football League.

The 0.5 percent sales tax would help cover the cost of the $295 million renovation, but Packers season-ticket holders also would bear $92.5 million of the burden with one-time fees, Harlan said.

Green Bay ticket holders would pay $1,400 and Milwaukee ticket holders would pay $600, with Packers officials still working out a way for fans to pay the "user fee" over the course of several years, Harlan said.

The team would contribute a total of $125.9 million for the renovation and upgrades, including the fees from season-ticket holders. Green Bay stock proceeds would add another $20.4 million for the stadium project and a loan from the NFL would add $13 million.

The Packers renovation plan calls for a 5-story red brick and green wrought-iron atrium called Titletown on the east side of Lambeau Field. It would include the Packers Hall of Fame, a stadium club and retail space, and would be open all year.

Brown County voters would be able to vote on the sales tax in a binding referendum, as long as the state Legislature and Gov. Tommy Thompson authorize one. The tax would be in addition to Wisconsin's 5 percent sales tax.

Voters have supported the Packers before in their time of need and will do so now, Harlan said.

"Failure has never been an option for the Green Bay Packers," he said. "When the future of this franchise has been on the line before, this football team, this community has always stepped up and made it happen."

"We don't plan to lose. We are going to go into this with a great deal of confidence," he said.

Harlan said the Packers chose to limit the sales tax to Brown County because the area reaps most of the financial benefits of being "the home of the Packers."

Rep. John Gard, R-Peshtigo, said he would support legislation letting the Packers take their case to the Brown County voters and felt most other lawmakers would, too.

"I just can't envision a scenario in which it wouldn't pass," Gard said.

Thompson said he would sign such legislation and would personally vote for the sales tax if he lived in Brown County.

"It's the right thing for us, it's right for Green Bay, it's right for the state, it's right for our future," Thompson said.

Money raised from the sales tax would be used for maintenance and upgrades to public areas of the stadium, Harlan said.

The Packers also are asking for $9.1 million from the state for the stadium's infrastructure and are open to the idea of a Green Bay Packers license plate, which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala, D-Madison, has supported, Harlan said.

The team decided to renovate the existing stadium to protect "the intimacy and tradition of Lambeau Field" and because it would cost an additional $185 million to build a new stadium, Harlan said.

The renovations would let the team open up 4,000 seats a game to non-season ticket holders. The Packers say there are now 51,000 people on a waiting list for season tickets.

The renovation would add about 10,000 new seats, including about 6,000 additional general admission seats around the rim of the bowl and 4,340 new indoor and outdoor club seats.

The Packers also would expand the existing concourse, build more women's restrooms and improve access for disabled people.

The Packers Board of Directors voted 45-0 Saturday to approve the renovation project.

The team wants to begin the renovations in January 2001 and finish them in 2003.

Team Vice President John Jones said the team needs the major renovations or the Packers would likely be making the least money of all teams in the National Football League by 2004.

A renovated Lambeau Field would bring in an estimated $38 million a year in additional revenue, Packers officials said.

John Matthews, a lobbyist for the Packers and former chief of staff for Thompson, said the team hopes the state Legislature would pass legislation approving a referendum before the spring session ends March 31.

The Brown County Board of Directors would then schedule a referendum to get the approval of area residents, he said.

"The voters here have the last word," Matthews said.

The Packers want legislation that would create a football district presided over by a 7-member board appointed by the governor, the mayor of Green Bay, the Brown County Executive and the village president of Ashwaubenon.

The Packers would maintain control over the construction project and the football district would be in charge of issuing and repaying tax-exempt bonds used to pay for the renovations and maintaining the stadium, Matthews said.

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