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Rock Sports complex positions itself on solid athletic ideas in Franklin

March 13, 2013

Franklin - As the snow melts away, a new season of activities and development has begun to reveal itself at the Rock Sports Complex.

While some plans have already been forced to change like the seasons, the development of the 120-acre complex located at 7900 Crystal Ridge Drive continues to evolve.

Plans to build a 3,500-square-foot sports-themed restaurant and bar were scaled back at the Common Council meeting on March 5. Tom Johns, general manager of the complex, said development had to accommodate the soil impacts of the landfill site it was being built upon.

Under an umbrella

After exploring several other temporary structures, Michael Zimmeran, CEO and president of the complex, presented to Common Council with a new concept: umbrella bars.

It's a viable solution to a sensitive construction site. It's a quick and cost-effective installation, and creates a great open-air atmosphere, said Johns. More importantly for the complex, it still allows for food and beverage sales.

Zimmerman borrowed the idea while on a recent ski retreat in Steamboat, Colo. He liked it so much he decided to bring it to Franklin. The complex purchased two umbrella bars, with the larger one spanning roughly 30-feet in diameter.

Johns said the umbrellas cost "north of a quarter million dollars."

Companies will be putting in utilities on site for the next month before installation of the umbrellas begins. Johns expects construction will be completed by the end of April, just in time for baseball season.

Fields of varied dreams

Projects for the first phase of development included six baseball fields, improvements to the ski hill and a BMX bike track.

Additional phases could include four softball fields, upgrades to the ski hill chalet and indoor and outdoor volleyball courts. A final phase might bring four fields for Little League football and lacrosse.

"The new diamonds have all the possibility of being the mecca for baseball in southeastern Wisconsin," Johns said. Several diamonds are replicas of actual Major League Baseball stadiums, including Miller Park and Fenway Park.

Zimmer expressed in the past that he wants to create athletic leagues in partnership with Milwaukee County Parks and Recreation and the city of Franklin.

A new kind of biking

When warmer weather arrives, the ski hill will transform into a new gravity bike course.

Gravity biking is similar to skiing - you still take the chairlift ride but replace your skis for a mountain bike, said Johns.

"You don't just bomb down the hill. You sweep side to side, left to right and make your runs last," he said.

Course designers say the hill should speed riders up and slow them down as they descend from the peak and steer through course stations. The gravitiy course will be the first of its kind in the Midwest, Johns said.

Marty Weigel, founder of the Milwaukee chapter of Metro Mountain Bikers and an alderman for West Allis, said the Rock Sports bike courses will be unlike any other in the country.

"It's going to get us some national exposure," Weigel said, adding that bike shops are already gearing up for specialized bike rigs in anticipation of the riding season.

A boost to the economy

Elected officials supported the Rock Sports Complex from the beginning, with one alderman crowning it as the "jewel" of the community. The Common Council's enthusiasm somewhat surprised Johns, who jokingly referred to the council as "Dr. No" for rejecting projects in the past.

Franklin Mayor Tom Taylor thinks the project will be a magnet for future development and set off a chain reaction of business growth.

"I've been advocating for this type of development for years," Taylor said.

The mayor previously estimated that the state of the art baseball diamonds could fill 6,000 hotel rooms each year.

The Rock Sports Complex is a joint initiative between Zimmerman Ventures, Milwaukee County and the city of Franklin. The county agreed to lease the property for $25,000 a year for 15 years with a percentage of profits going to the county.

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