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Many questions remain about Big Top's long-term contract at Breese Stevens

The first presentation to the public of a proposed contract between Big Top and the City of Madison was on Wednesday last week. The Use Agreement proposed is for 15 years, with the option to extend for another 5 years.

My kids are 5 and 7 years old. They will be somewhere between the ages of 20 and 27 when this contract expires -- maybe working, going to college, starting families of their own. 

Twenty years ago, Tommy Thompson was our Governor. In 2003, Sue Bauman was the Mayor of Madison, our first and only (so far) woman mayor. At that time, Facebook didn't yet exist.

My point is that 15-20 years is a long time.

This contract deserves some scrutiny from the City of Madison, the Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association, and anyone interested in the future of downtown Madison.

The information publicly presented, and re-capped in the recent Wisconsin State Journal article, offers a vision of some of the changes. However, there are many questions not yet answered. Without additional information, it is hard to imagine the full scope of this contract or what possibilities are unexplored.

The Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association meets on February 8th. Members of the council are gathering questions, researching answers, and encouraging neighbors to be in communicating with their Alder, Ledell Zellers

The City of Madison Parks Division owns the historic property. The seven members of the Board of Parks Commissioners have the job of overseeing maintenance and acquisition of everything from greenways to the municipal swimming pool to Breese Stevens. 

The Use Agreement is proposed by Big Top Events, a company that will manage the property, pay a lease, and bring in revenue. The City Council will be asked to approve the contract. 

The proposed rental for the next 15 years is stated to be approximately $100,000/year, or $8,333/month. [A three bedroom, 2 bath apartment at the Constellation next door rents for $2,245/month.] There are retail spaces and opportunities for restaurants and vendors within Breese Stevens, all of which would be subleased by Big Top to bring additional revenue.

The following facts were presented by Big Top Baseball in a public listening session on January 24th. 

Click here to download the PDF. My outstanding questions are listed below.

5 years remaining
15 years with 5 year option

Professional Soccer
No team
2019 Launch of professional soccer team

Facility Improvements
$1.6 Million invested by city

# of Concerts
6 +1 (Madison Parks Foundation fundraiser)
7-14 (Annual increase in concerts, not to exceed 14)

Concert Decibel Levels
100 dBa at sound board
No change

Non Concert Decibel Levels
85 dBa at perimeter
No change

10:00 PM
All events 10:00 PM, except one (1) 10:30 PM and one (1) 11:00 PM

Stage Orientation
Restricted only for concerts to point away from Mifflin St.
Restricted for all events to point away from Mifflin St.

PA System
New system to better contain sound in facility for non-concert events

Rental Fee
Approximately $30,000/year
Approximately $100,000/year

Ability to Sublease Space Under Seating

Beer and Wine Sales
Allowed for all non high school events
No change

Liquor Sales
Liquor allowed at private parties only
Liquor available at all public, as well as private events, in separately ticketed spaces inside stadium

Free Community Facility Use
Zero events
Eight proposed

Two full-time employees
12 full-time employees

Some questions that I have:

-How many professional soccer league games will there be per season?

-When will games be held? In other words, weekends or weekdays, and will they be daytime or evening events?

-What will the average ticket price be for professional soccer games?

-What is the average ticket price for concerts at Breese Stevens?

-When does Breese Stevens open for the season? When does it close? How many days of this season will the venue NOT be used? 

-How many total events -- including concerts, sporting events, East High School events, community events, and 'other' uses -- take place during this season?

-How many events take place in downtown neighborhood parks other than Breese Stevens between May and September?

-How does the Marquette Neighborhood Association use the revenue generated from the events they help to run and organize?

-Is revenue from Breese Stevens considered part of the Parks Commission's long-range plan for supporting the 249 parks, 4 golf courses and 1 cemetery that are part of Madison's park system?

- Does the contract contain a provision that increases the rent over time with inflation and cost of living changes?

Do you have other questions?

Please send them to Alder Ledell Zellers and Tenney-Lapham Neighborhood Association president Patty Prime.

Ledell Zellers :
Patty Prime :



  1. Isn't it too early to be negotiating a contract that has 5 year left? I think 15 years is - too long - for a contract of this type. I live near by and think the even closer neighbors are not well served by 14 concerts in a year.

    If the contract is renewed with these terms I think their property values will go down and many will chose to move to avoid the noise from which there is NO ESCAPE! I will be very interested to se how sound is supposed to be "contained." RE alcohol - aren't there "enough bars" in Madison to serve the concert goers before and after the event? WI is already the second hardest drinking state in the Union. I don't think we need 10,000 drunks driving and wandering around the immediate neighborhood. And they are already wandering, as incase no one noticed, there is no suffficient decent parking currently in this vicinity for up to 10,000 people.
    I'll bet the promoters of these event don't live within hearing distance of Breeze Stevens.

  2. I recently signed a contract for an apartment across from Breese Stevens. This is bad news for me. It would seem there would be a great deal of noise every weekend during the summer months. Parking would also be a real problem for people who live in the neighborhood. There are probably other negatives for residents in the neighborhood and I can't think of any positives. I fear I will have to get out of my lease or move again at some point. I'm nearing 70 years old with health issues. This is a no win situation for me and other neighbors as well I'm sure.

    1. Thanks for your comment. I've shared this with the neighborhood association, which is collecting feedback.