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Sentry site proposed for community center use in Franklin

March 5, 2014

Franklin — Three weeks after a community center was proposed for Croatian Park, the Common Council received another offer: the former Sentry Food Store in the Orchard View Shopping Center.

The owner of the vacant building, 7140 S. 76th St., has struggled to find a tenant for the past two years. The plan to use the building as a community center was first floated when Sentry moved out.

"I didn't know what to think about it (at first) other than it's a great location with plenty of lighting and low crime," said Mayor Tom Taylor at the Common Council meeting March 4. "Other stores in the shopping center would probably be able to take advantage of the clientele coming in, too."

During the years that followed, marked by a difficult economy, the idea was set aside — until it was brought before the council Tuesday.

The city has been actively searching for a community center location after listing a need for one in its Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan — also known simply as the Park Plan — that was approved in 2011.

A recent cap on the city's impact fees for a community center, however, has restricted its ability to build one; the plan originally called for a center that cost between $9 million and $10 million and be paid for with impact fees, Tom Taylor said, but new state laws have made it so only $1.2 million could be used.

The city must then find other means to build a community center, he emphasized at the meeting, even when it comes to looking at pre-existing facilities, like the 45,000-square-foot Sentry building.

"We would think (a community center) would be a useful purpose for a building that has a lot of competition out there," said Russel Stewart, who represented the building's owner, John O'Malley. "I think it would do a lot of good for a lot of people ... (and) the cost would be substantially less than anything you could build that size."

Missing data and figures in O'Malley's concept review, however, left the Common Council unconvinced. Items such as the building's asking price and the average cost of utilities were not included in the concept review.

"Our concept is to let the city develop (the building) as they see fit," Stewart said. "We would just sell them the shell, the building."

"The city really has to evaluate its master plan and decide what we're going to do with the heart of the city," Alderman Mark Dandrea said. "We're looking for economic growth, and this reverses that economic development growth engine by putting (the building) into the city's coffers and then it's no longer a taxable piece of property."

The Common Council passed the proposal to the Forward Franklin Economic Development Commission and the Finance Committee so that more information could be obtained for the concept review.

Tom Taylor said that although the city has limited impact fee funds, a community center and a senior center are desperately needed in the community; he also suggested reaching out to the Milwaukee County Board for financial assistance in accomplishing that goal.

"Other municipalities have senior centers that are run (by the county) ... and the people in Franklin — the seniors and the children — deserve a community center just like any other community center in the rest of Milwaukee County."

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