Franklin finds Rock's downtown/stadium's proposal to be less than solid idea

Council rejects tax increment financing concept

Mark Luberda, director of administration, outlines the city’s Memorandum of Understanding for The Rock’s proposed development plan for a stadium and downtown during a public informational meeting April 17.

Mark Luberda, director of administration, outlines the city’s Memorandum of Understanding for The Rock’s proposed development plan for a stadium and downtown during a public informational meeting April 17. Photo By Staff photo by John Rasche

April 22, 2014

Franklin — The common council has decided it will not pursue a tax-incremental finance district to help The Rock Sports Complex's downtown development.

After a two-hour closed session meeting following public comment Tuesday, April 22, the council unanimously voted to reject The Rock's proposal due to "multiple unknowns."

The council found that The Rock owner Mike Zimmerman: provided inadequate evidence of the potential for economic development; failed to adequately involve Milwaukee County and the state as per their partnership roles; was unable to commit to additional development at the outset; and needed necessary approvals from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Those unknowns "all create too much risk for the city," the council concluded in the motion.

Revisiting the plan

The Rock, 7900 Crystal Ridge Road, has met with the city multiple times regarding development of a professional minor league baseball stadium and a complimentary downtown area.

The Rock sought financial help funding the downtown project through a TIF district after the city's designated task force on April 2 rejected the complex's first request for $10.5 million to build the stadium.

Under that proposal, spelled out in a Memorandum of Understanding with the city, Zimmerman had agreed to front the $10.5 million if the city were to approve a TIF district.

A TIF district would use new property taxes from future commercial development to help finance the baseball stadium and adjoining new downtown area. Zimmerman would then be provided with economic incentives to continue seeking more commercial development in the district.

The stadium, which had potential for acquiring a franchise team with the independent baseball Frontier League, and downtown development could have become a $100,000 million asset to the community, Zimmerman said in previous meetings.

"I very much support this (project)," said former mayor Tom Taylor at the Tuesday's special meeting. "This seems like a very complex issue, but, really, it's very simple. If you don't move forward with the TIF district for The Rock Sports Complex with the stadium, nothing's going to happen and you're still going to have that very ugly eyesore sitting there."

Opposition in the stands

But some residents neighboring the property also felt the proposal lacked crucial information. Opponents argued that the missing information prevented the council from making an informed decision that could negatively affect the city's economy.

"What frustrates me is that the city says it's working like a private sector (for the proposal), but the private sector would go through all the math and understand all the numbers before making a decision," said Ron Gibt, a spokesman for the ad hoc community group Parents and Neighbors for Safe and Affordable Baseball, prior to the special common council meeting.

Gibt, who said he was once a capital finance manager for Milwaukee County, helped compile a lengthy report that examined financial, environmental and safety concerns by residents regarding The Rock's proposal.

Concerns included methane exposure and polluted groundwater from when the location was once a landfill as well as heavier traffic and light pollution produced by stadium activity.

"I'm a pro-development guy … but this is a project that should have never been made public until it was sufficiently defined," Gibt said.

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