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Rock stadium plan still isn't on solid ground in Franklin

Task force remains undecided about financing ballpark

April 1, 2014

Franklin — Should the city contribute $10.5 million dollars to help develop a minor league baseball stadium at The Rock Sports Complex? The project's task force remains undecided, after discussing the proposal at a meeting Tuesday.

Michael Zimmerman, owner of The Rock and Zimmerman Ventures, originally pitched the professional baseball stadium proposal to the Common Council at a concept review meeting Jan. 30.

After gaining the council's blessing for the project, a Plan Commission was held March 20 to review necessary permits for the stadium and to host a public hearing regarding the proposal.

The stadium, which would be located on The Rock's property at 7900 Crystal Ridge Road, would seat approximately 3,100 people for professional, college and high school baseball games as well as other events, such as concerts.

Zimmerman also is trying to acquire a franchise team from the independent baseball Frontier League for the stadium.

Pitching Franklin

Josh Schaub, CEO and General Manager of the Joliet Slammers — a Frontier League franchise team in Joliet, Ill. — was also present at the Plan Commission meeting to emphasize the benefit of having a stadium to fit a league team.

"We really believe (Franklin) could be a bell cow...among minor league baseball," Schaub said.

In addition to having a "home team," residents and visitors could also enjoy movie nights, charity events, school functions and fireworks at the stadium, he said.

"At the end of the day, the citizens of Franklin and the city will own the name on the front of the (Frontier team's) jerseys," Schaub said. "That name represents the community...don't lost sight of that as you make this decision."

Despite an overwhelming amount of support from the audience, several residents had their doubts.

Opponents to the stadium worried about what impact the stadium would have due to lighting, noise, traffic, drainage, tailgate parties and other issues.

"We're concerned about a lot of stuff," said resident Dale Kiener. "A lot of these people (nearby) have been there 40 years and it has been peaceful and quiet. Our concerns are many."

Financing and timing

The city can't wait too long in making the decision to provide financial assistance for the stadium, however.

"The (Frontier) League is expanding," Schaub said. "(Franklin) is one team that's on the docket, but there are other ones as well. There is competition to be the first one to apply to get this. If you want this done, it needs to happen pretty quickly, because there are other people knocking on the door to get into the league."

The Plan Commission unanimously approved the permits for the stadium, but did not discuss finances of the project, which were to be addressed at The Rock Professional Baseball Stadium Development Proposal Franklin Task Force meeting on Wednesday.

A feasibility study for the stadium was presented at the task force meeting by Charles Johnson, President and CEO of Johnson Consulting, a firm that specializes in athletic developments.

The feasibility study estimated the cost of the stadium to be $10.5 million, excluding an additional $4 million for team acquisition fees and team operating costs.

In addition to already investing $10.5 million into The Rock complex, Zimmerman would also contribute the $4 million toward the stadium — leaving the remainder $10.5 million through other funding; possibly with taxpayer money, should the city approve it, the report proposed.

Money maker

According to the feasibility report, the proposed stadium coupled with the existing sports complex are estimated to generate approximately $11.18 million in direct spending, $2.24 million in indirect spending, and $1.68 million in induced spending, resulting in a total spending of approximately $15 million.

"We find that the choice here would be an easy one, given the demographics of your market compared to other Frontier League locations," Johnson said. "(Franklin) has a strong economy; (research indicates) your population is robust and would be supportive of a baseball franchise compared to other markets."

If the city were to fund the stadium, its annual debt payments would result in a total of $21.5 million over the course of 20 years — at a rate of $1.1 million a year.

"This (wouldn't be) the first time the city of Franklin has used public financing to help make a desirable project happen," said Forward Franklin Economic Development Committee Chairman Craig Haskins, who attended the task force meeting as a resident, regarding the city's business parks. "For projects that are one-of-a-kind or the first-of-its-kind, this city has always taken those projects seriously.

"The stadium project for The Rock might not come to fruition, but if it does and the city participates in making that happen, this project will raise the bar for the rest of the developing areas of Franklin."

The task force went into closed session for about two hours to discuss financing options before reaching a recommendation to present before the Common Council, who will ultimately make the final decision at a future meeting.

"No decision or recommendation has been reached," said Mark Luberda, director of administration and member of the task force, the day after the meeting.

Permitting OK

At a meeting Monday, the Common Council approved a special-use permit for the stadium after imposing conditions and restrictions in a resolution.

Those conditions include obtaining approval from Milwaukee County and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, submitting a Traffic Impact Analysis to the city's Engineering Department, installing buffers around the property prior to construction and shielding the stadium lights to control light spill and glare.

A total of 24 conditions were included in the approved resolution.

Bill Lee, comissioner for the Frontier League, attended the Monday meeting with Schaub in support of the proposed baseball stadium.

"We at the Frontier League look very, very forward to having your community as part of what we do," Lee said. "I take this relationship that the league has with our cities very seriously, because, no matter what happens, it's our reputation too. We want things to be done right. We want things done to be first-class.

"This is going to be a fabulous area for (a league stadium). ...It can't just be a baseball stadium — you don't want just a baseball stadium. You want something that encompasses the entire community and something that the entire community can be proud of."

The council unanimously approved the permit, which included "accessory uses" of the stadium, such as a playground area, petting zoo, carnival games and a rock climbing wall. Concerts and fireworks, events that would have a greater impact in the area, were not included in the permit; those will be reviewed at a future Common Council meeting.

The task force met again on Wednesday, after deadline, to deliberate The Rock's proposal for a public-private partnership agreement and the investing of public funds.

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