Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Miller Park Blame Game To Begin - - And Opening Day Is Several Weeks Off!

Let the finger pointing begin at Miller Park, and I don't mean the kind that managers wave at umpires over a blown call at home plate.

I'm referring to the inevitable excuses and denials of responsibility that are sure to follow in the wake of the discovery that someone, somehow, sometime connected toilet piping to a storm drain instead of the sanitary sewer system, flushing human waste for years into the Menomonee River, and eventually into Lake Michigan.

From which the city and much of the region takes its drinking water.

Granted Miller Park was a complex project, and there were multiple water and sewer connections to be made correctly, but there was also supposed to be a level of competency and sophistication built into the process, including checks, balances, certifications and inspections.

As screw-ups go, this is a pretty substantial one.

Think of all the effort that has gone into cleaning up the river, and the Valley. The goal there was to eliminate a brownfield, not get it, right?

Will the stadium district board and staff point to its general contractor, who, in turn, will call out sub-contractors, who will then flush out a supervisor who can dump on a plumber who might rat out an apprentice who long ago left the state?

Miller Park sure has had a checkered history.

Tommy Thompson and the Selig family decided the stadium would be built where Bud Selig wanted it constructed - - far enough from downtown so it couldn't be part of the historic revival that was taking shape there - - and inaccessible enough to require ticket holders to drive there, and pay parking fees that all went to the team.

To make matters even more controversial, Thompson assigned local property taxpayers tens of millions in mandatory infrastructure costs, and then laid on top of that a five-county stadium construction sales tax that freed the team from any out-of-pocket donation.

Then the project's financing plan fell apart when Fritz Ruf, a savvy state development agency director, pegged the agency's terms at 10% on a crucial, $50 million loan to make sure it never happened.

And it didn't.

After the financing got cobbled together in dribs and drabs, including lending or loan guarantees by a diverse cast of non-traditional lender/investors including The American League, local foundations, The Metropolitan Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce and Journal Communications, three workers died when the partially-constructed roof collapsed due to unsafe winds during heavy lifts.

Finally open, Miller Park was rewarded with the 2002 All-Star game by now-Commissioner Bug Selig, who then declared that year's annual classic a tie when the managers ran out of bench players.

Now don't misunderstand: I'm a huge baseball fan, and I went to see The Brewers often during all the losing seasons, which has meant pretty much every year.

But Miller Park has had a wierd vibe to it - - from the first day that Selig suddenly announced that the place would have a roof at the cost of an extra hundred million dollars of other people's money.

So learning now that toilets have been draining directly into the Menomonee River Valley - - well, somehow that's just another not-so-surprising chapter in the project's troubled history.

No comments: