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Packers: Stadium District legislation would be met with “major litigation”

Published: Jan. 12, 2022 at 11:22 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 12, 2022 at 5:54 PM CST
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - The Green Bay Packers say a bill that would dissolve the Stadium District Board would be met with “immediate major litigation.”

Bill author Rep. David Steffen and Packers representative Aaron Popkey presented their arguments before the city’s Finance Committee Tuesday.

“The Stadium District Board is a statutory artifact. It has exhausted its responsibility and purpose,” Rep. Steffen said.

Steffen, a Howard Republican, has introduced a bill to end the program and divert a bulk of the funds to homeowners who pay property taxes who would receive a one-time check. “There is $42 million that would go back to property tax payers of Brown County, $700 checks. There would be $3 million that goes to Brown County as an entity. $3 million that would go the Village of Ashwaubenon. And then an additional $2.5 million that would go to various entities and projects such as the Green Bay Chamber for small business projects, as well as the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation.”

He further proposed requiring the city to redirect $81 million from the 10% Lambeau Field ticket tax to “law enforcement, road repairs, Lambeau Field and Fox River area economic development or additional tax relief checks for residents.”

The board was established in 2000 for the purpose of maintaining funds for the renovation of Lambeau Field. Steffen advocates ending the program by Sept. 16.

However, the Packers say such a move would violate the lease signed by the team, the city and the Stadium District. That lease is set to expire at the end of the year. The Packers say they’ve been working with the city to extend it.

“I have to tell you, I was quite surprised to have the Packers top brass come out and say ‘We’re going to sue the City of Green Bay if you support Representative Steffen’s proposal,” Steffen said.

Steffen says his main concern is transparency from the board that oversees so much money.

“There are three major reasons why I was interested in working on this,” Steffen told the committee. “The first relates to the fact that the Stadium District is, in fact, a statutory artifact. The three primary goals that were established in state law through a piece of legislation that was enacted in May of 2000 had three specific purposes. One was to oversee the construction that was created through the referendum--the $3 million redevelopment of Lambeau Field. Two, to oversee the tax to pay for that redevelopment, and third to insure the bonds that related to the project were fully paid. Those were the three primary objectives of the Stadium District Board. All three of those have been satisfied since 2015.”

Steffen believes the finances should be overseen by elected officials in Green Bay.

He and the Packers disagree on what constitutes financial impact, stating that the Packers would not be impacted financially by the dissolvement of the board.

“The money is not ours. It’s the public’s,” Steffen said.

Packers Director of Public Affairs Aaron Popkey challenged Steffen’s legislation, saying it would break the Lambeau Field lease that imposed a 10 percent ticket tax for stadium maintenance.

“What we do not need is a person that’s not involved in the process to potentially drive a wedge into the successful relationship and the operations that those parties have today,” said Popkey.

“We’ve stated all along that was always dedicated toward the stadium, so to say that money was extra and should be given back to homeowners is just incorrect,” he said.

Under the lease, the tax funds are dedicated to the operation and maintenance of Lambeau Field through the current or extended term of the lease. Popkey says diversion of those contractually committed funds would leave a deficit that would have to be made up by the Packers or by taxpayers.

“The proposed legislation does not and cannot change those or any other terms of the lease. Lease provisions could only be changed by agreement of all parties to the lease. Furthermore, the proposed legislation would completely undo the funding for Lambeau Field operation and maintenance costs, over $50 million of the sales tax trust funds dedicated by the legislature, Brown County voters and the Green Bay Common Council for Lambeau Field purposes, would instead be diverted and doled out in 2022 to select Brown County residents and purposes unrelated to Lambeau Field,” Popkey said.

Popkey defended the Stadium District Board as a non-political entity that has worked “harmoniously” with the city and Packers. He called it “unwise public policy” that would constitute a “breach of trust and illegal evisceration of the Lambeau Field lease.”

“It would leave no choice other than immediate major litigation to prevent it from taking effect,” Popkey said.

No action was taken at Tuesday’s meeting.

Steffen will reintroduce his proposal next January if it does not go through this year.

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