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Crystal Ridge sports complex would blend business, community spirit

Developer says wealth creation is not part of the plan

June 26, 2012

Franklin - Mike Zimmerman learned how to traverse down a ski hill at Crystal Ridge when he was about 12.

Today, the longtime city resident and local businessman is attempting to maneuver a path through governmental approvals to a new and improved Crystal Ridge, 7900 W. Crystal Ridge Drive.

He received an enthusiastic response last week following an informational presentation to the Common Council. Two days later, he met first with city and then Milwaukee County officials to learn what approvals it will take to start redeveloping the land for use as a multisport complex. The plan is to add up to 12 baseball diamonds and reconfigure the existing ski and BMX bicycling offerings to take advantage of the popularity of mountain biking and snowboarding.

Another part of the initial phase includes attracting a restaurant to the site.

Second and third phases of the project would include a 22,000-square-foot indoor complex with batting cages and soccer fields as well as improvements to the existing ski hill and chalet.

Approvals needed soon

"I'm looking to at least get approval to start seeding the infield grass by August," Zimmerman said. "We need to do that so that the diamonds would be ready for next year. Right now, it all depends on whether we can get on the County Board agenda and get it approved by July."

The County Board needs to approve the plan because it owns the land.

Zimmerman also is relying on the state Department of Natural Resources to approve a land grading project that would allow proper drainage on the site. Additionally, he will need the city to approved some infrastructure improvements, and he hopes the city will match the $3 million he is investing.

Community focused

Zimmerman, who runs six health care businesses from his Franklin-based offices, said he does not need the matching funds but seeks a meaningful partnership with the city and county. He said the "strategic partnership" approach will make for a stronger development.

"This will be run like a business, but by no means will this be wealth creation," Zimmerman said. "This is about giving back to the community."

It could also be about positioning the community for significant economic development, said Craig Haskins, chairman of the Forward Franklin Economic Development Committee.

"It would be a huge plus for the community," Haskins said. "It could create a giant demand for commercial development."

Even before an official approval, Forward Franklin members were set to meet this week with a real estate development professional to review the possibilities.

Haskins knows something about those possibilities. He has three sons who play baseball, and the family often travels to other communities - with some trips including multiple-night stays - to compete in venues much like the ones Zimmerman wants to develop.

"I know how much money we spend to go away for a couple of days, or for just one full day," Haskins said. "This weekend, we are gong to be spending our Franklin money in Green Bay."

Opportunity for improvement

Franklin Mayor Tom Taylor said he believes there is a lot of Common Council support for the project, though he is not sure how fast all the approvals can be put in place.

"It's a very good project that will take care of what has been an eyesore at the ski hill," Taylor said.

The Crystal Ridge ski area was built on a landfill about 30 years ago. Taylor and Zimmerman said landscaping would be of major benefit and attention would be paid to a "chewed up parking lot" and decaying buildings.

"I hope the government agencies see this as a priority," said Zimmerman, who said he has always been a sports enthusiast. "In terms of it being a way to address improving something in need, this is a layup."

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