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Rock goes downtown in latest stadium deal in Franklin

City pursues TIF and will host public information meeting Thursday

April 15, 2014

Franklin — The Rock Sports Complex's latest proposal is more than just for a baseball stadium; it's for a complete downtown.

The Rock's first proposal for a professional minor league baseball stadium was rejected April 2, after the city's designated task force decided taxpayer money should not foot the project's $10.5 million investment.

Mike Zimmerman, owner of The Rock and Zimmerman Ventures, said the stadium could be used to franchise a new team from the independent baseball Frontier League.

Rather than focus on the baseball stadium proposal from Zimmerman, the task force expressed interest in his ultimate "Phase 3" for The Rock's development plan — an aspect Zimmerman spoke about in abstract terms until a task force meeting April 14.

Proposing a new downtown

After rejection of the first proposal, Zimmerman "worked tirelessly" with Mark Luberda, director of administration, and Paul Rotzenberg, director of finance and treasurer, to produce a Memorandum of Understanding, Zimmerman said.

The new proposal, submitted to the task force at the meeting, "is not just a stadium proposal," Zimmerman said, and it "does not use existing tax revenues to support development."

The "low-risk, high-value proposal" is the formation of a new downtown area along The Rock's property.

"We're proposing a downtown Franklin that will have mixed-use retail, restaurants and some sort of hospitality," Zimmerman said. It will be "a revitalized, fully integrated corridor that takes The Rock, the retail and the whole area of 76th Street and Rawson Avenue and brings new life to it."

The Common Council reviewed the proposal to help finance the project by establishing a tax-incremental finance district April 15.

A TIF district would use new property taxes from future commercial development to help finance The Rock's baseball stadium, thus providing the developer with economic incentives to abide by the city's permits and conditions and to continue seeking more commercial development.

Zimmerman would pay the $10.5 million for the stadium if the city agreed to create a TIF district for the project, under the new proposal.

The stadium will act as a catalyst for economic growth and will help the city reach its 70-30 tax base ratio goal, Zimmerman said.

"The stadium will drive traffic and demand in and around our proposed (downtown) and increase the vitality and long-term visibility of this area," Zimmerman said. "I think this is a lifetime opportunity for the city, and I would hate to see another city take this opportunity."

Zimmerman suggested that downtown development associated with a professional baseball stadium could be worth about $100 million to the community.

The task force agreed April 14 to recommend the Common Council consider the proposal for a Memorandum of Understanding that incorporates a TIF district and "addresses the risks associated with the proposal while creating a valid opportunity to initiate economic development."

Neighboring complaints

Many nearby residents have expressed concern about potential issues related to the proposed baseball stadium, including light pollution, excessive noise, water run-off and the presence of methane from when the sports complex was once a landfill.

The prospect of a new downtown area, then, may heighten those neighbors' concerns.

"I don't quite understand how you can take a downtown and put it anywhere in Franklin you so desire," said nearby Franklin resident Le Roy Lewandowski at the Common Council meeting. "A downtown usually consists of the city hall, the library and the post office. To call 76th Street and Rawson downtown is wrong."

Common Council unanimously agreed to host a public information meeting regarding the proposal on Thursday, April 17, in the courtroom of the Franklin Police Department, 9455 W. Loomis Road, at 6:30 p.m.

The council also agreed to hold a special meeting Tuesday, April 22, at 6:30 p.m. for further consideration of the proposal. Prior to the special meeting, the council will seek consultation regarding the potential for a TIF district.

"That special meeting will not (imply) a done deal," Luberda told the council Tuesday. "Staff will do some of this work and, if you end up not approving the Memorandum of Understanding, (then) that's just some productivity hours to go by the wayside.

"But if you do (approve the TIF district), then we've got a running start at it. … If the (TIF district) is not approved, then we can just walk away with zero risk."

The council must complete a TIF district and/or economic impact analysis by June 4, a deadline set by the memorandum.

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