As the Milwaukee Brewers get ready for opening day, the Miller Park maintenance crew is busy making sure the retractable roof is in proper working order.

Members of the board that oversees Miller Park approved a plan Tuesday to spend $1.8 million to upgrade the system that controls the ballpark’s retractable roof. 

Members of the Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District board’s finance and operations committees voted unanimously to spend the money to upgrade the system as part of the 2021 maintenance and improvement plan for the ballpark.

The roof panels are moved by a complex system of motors and drives that haul it along a track.

Much of the controls for the system as well as various parts of the drive system have become obsolete and have reached their usable life after 20 years, said Kristi Kreklow, associate director of the district.

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The drive system for Miller Park’s retractable roof is being replaced. (Photo: Michael Sears, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)

The system will be upgraded to include the newest technology and hardware and will take about 18 months to complete.

In 2018, workers removed and inspected one of the 10 ‘bogies’ that haul the roof panels into place. The bogie was making unusual noises but was deemed not to be faulty in the $900,000 project.

The spending for the latest project is coming from what’s known as the district’s segregated reserve fund to which the district and the Milwaukee Brewers each make contributions.

Upgrading the roof’s drive and control system has been planned and is not a surprise. Original plans for the stadium called for the systems to be replaced once they turned 20 years old.

The expectation is that the upgrade, once complete, will last another 20 years, said Mike Duckett, executive director of the district.


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Fire detection system being upgraded

Board members also voted Tuesday to spend $1.3 million to replace the ballpark’s fire detection system.

The roof control system and the fire detection system upgrades are the biggest ticket items that the board members considered on Tuesday.

The fire detection system also is 20 years old, Duckett said, and replacing it was also part of the long-term plan for the upkeep of the ballpark.

The ballpark has about 1.2 million square feet of finished space that the fire detection system covers, Kreklow said. 

The fire detection system was put to use in July 2014 after a middle-of-the-night fire broke out in a restaurant area in the left field area of the ballpark. The system triggered the ballpark’s sprinkler system and alerted Milwaukee firefighters, who responded and extinguished the blaze.   

The funds for the upgrades will come, in part, from proceeds of a 0.1% sales tax levied in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Washington, Ozaukee and Racine counties. That sales tax, collected since 1996, was stopped in March. The funds were placed into an escrow account and are being used to maintain the stadium. 

The state law that created the tax allows the proceeds to be used only for costs related to the ballpark. 

Among other spending items, members of the board also voted to spend $130,000 on a female locker room after the first female coach in Major League Baseball, Alyssa Nakken, began coaching this year for the San Francisco Giants. 

San Francisco Giants first base coach Alyssa Nakken jogs to first base during the second inning of an exhibition baseball game against the Oakland Athletics in San Francisco, Tuesday, July 21, 2020. (Photo: Associated Press)

LEDs will light field

Meanwhile, the process of converting the lights that illuminate the playing field to LEDs has begun. The new LED lighting system has been delivered to the ballpark and installation will take place this off-season. 

The new lights are expected to be ready for Opening Day 2021. The project has qualified for a $90,000 Focus on Energy rebate due to the energy savings that the new LEDs will provide, according to the stadium district. That money will be used to help offset the project cost.

Name change in full swing

The Milwaukee Brewers’ ballpark will be renamed American Family Field, beginning on Jan. 1, 2021, when American Family Insurance takes over the naming rights.

Thousands of signs must be changed at the ballpark, which has been known as Miller Park since it opened. 

State law prevents the stadium district from incurring any expenses related to the name change, Kreklow said.

Rent deferral?

The Brewers pay a $1.2 million annual rental fee to the stadium district, and board members are expecting the ball club to ask for some form of rent forgiveness as a result of the pandemic-shortened MLB season in which fans were not allowed to attend games. 

During the teleconference meeting on Tuesday, board members asked whether rent forgiveness or deferral was allowed under the lease agreement with the team. 

While there is no specific clause in the lease that mentions a pandemic, there are other portions of the lease that likely address such a situation and would allow some sort of rent forgiveness or deferral, Duckett said. 

Board members said they would take up the issue when and if the Brewers formally request it. 

Contact Joe Taschler at (414) 224-2554 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTaschler or Facebook at

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