Madison’s Finance Committee approved a 10-year use agreement with the operators of Breese Stevens Field and $1.3 million in facility improvements at its meeting Monday.
Big Top Events, which also operates the baseball stadium in Warner Park for the popular Madison Mallards summer college baseball team, which it also owns, is seeking a longer term contract to help draw a professional minor league soccer team to play at Breese Stevens.
“As we look forward to the 2019 summer with the launch of professional soccer at the venue, which we all agree is the best purpose, the best years and the best use of that facility is certainly in front of us,” Big Top Events president Vern Stenman said.
The proposed 10-year agreement calls for:
- Maintaining seven concerts per year with the option for an additional concert pending prior approval of the Parks Division superintendent in consultation with the alder.
- Keeping a 10 p.m. curfew for concerts.
- Capping school-night events to 20 over the 10-year period, approximately 2 per year, and a maximum of three in any given year.
- Allowing the facility to host a professional soccer team.
- Adding eight free community access days to the stadium.
The annual fee paid to the city by Big Top grow from $68,000 in 2019 to $91,000 in 2028, increasing $2,000 to $3,000 per year, if the contract is approved by the City Council.
The total facility payments for the 10-year period are $785,000. According to the resolution, Big Top will reimburse the city an estimated $34,000 per year in utility costs.
Parks Superintendent Eric Knepp said the proposed use agreement is the best outcome for the city financially.
“Given the historic nature of the facility, the issues it has and will always have, completing this work at at this time will allow it to potentially meet its highest and best use, which is to preserve through purpose and a private partner who takes a significant burden off of the city budget,” Knepp said.
The contract also represents a compromise between the operators and the neighborhood. Ald. Ledell Zellers, District 2, supports the contract but acknowledged “prickly points” related to the “robust use” of the facility, namely noise and parking.
“I do think that we have come to a good balance here,” Zellers said. “That means not everybody's happy, and I know that I will hear about some discomfort in the neighborhood.”
The new use agreement would take effect Jan. 1, 2019, and run through 2028, with an option to extend to 2033 if both parties agree.
Madison started working with Big Top in 2015, and the existing contract ends in 2022 with a potential five-year mutually agreeable extension through 2027. Since Big Top took over, the festivals, attendance and operating income has increased.
In 2013 and 2014, there were approximately 35 events held at Breese with a total attendance of about 20,000. The city earned an estimated $48,000, with over half coming from a lease on the cell tower located at the site, and spent $105,000 for an operating loss of about $57,000.
Under the existing agreement, Breese hosted 170 events, including athletic events and concerts, in 2017 with a total estimated attendance of 95,000 people. The net operating income from Breese in 2017 was $45,000.
Knepp estimated the total number of events at Breese will increase to 200 annually with around 150,000 visitors. Under the proposed agreement, he estimated the operating income from Breese will be about $85,000 in 2019.
The city does not collect any shared or variable revenue, Knepp said.
The committee jointly adopted a second resolution that dedicates $1.3 million in city funds for improvements at Breese Stevens. Under the resolution, the 2018 Parks Division’s capital budget would be amended to authorize $650,000 in general obligation debt and $650,000 from the Parks Division’s citywide infrastructure impact fees to fund the project.
Knepp recommended using the infrastructure impact fees because he said Breese Stevens Field is a community wide asset used by residents across the city and region. However, the specific fee would run a deficit position into 2021.
“Given what we know about the current projects in the pipeline and the trend in building permits, I would project that this fund is likely to recover prior to 2021 with a fund balance that can continue to support projects that benefit the whole community,” Knepp said in a memo to the committee.
Improvements include adding 1,300 seats and upgrading the public address system, locker rooms, facility systems and field amenities.
The resolution allows the $1.3 million improvement funds to be spent in 2018 to parallel a second $1.2 million project that would construct a concessions and restroom facility, which is currently out to bid. Plans call for starting construction in 2018.
“Having the additional improvement commence in conjunction with the current project will create efficiencies and provide a more fully modernized facility and will reduce the need to complete a completely separate project in 2021,” the resolution states.