Milwaukee County approves sale of Crystal Ridge to Ballpark Commons developers

Developer still hoping to break ground this year

A rendering of Ballpark Commons by JLA Architects.

The Milwaukee County Board has approved the sale of Crystal Ridge to the developers of The Rock Sports Complex and the proposed Ballpark Commons development in Franklin, paving the way for the long-discussed project to move forward.

Developer Mike Zimmerman is proposing a $130 million project that includes a 2,500-seat stadium for a minor league baseball team, restaurants, apartments and an indoor sports complex.

A rendering of Ballpark Commons by JLA Architects.

The 200-acre development would occur at both The Rock complex and on adjacent land along Crystal Ridge Drive, between South 76th Street and West Rawson Avenue and the property southwest of West Rawson Avenue and West Old Loomis Road.

Before Thursday’s county board approval, Zimmerman and Greg Marso, president and chief executive officer of Marso Construction and Carstensen Homes in Franklin, owned about 26 of the 32 acres south of Rawson that could be developed.

In 2011, Zimmerman transformed the former Crystal Ridge Ski Hill, at the northwest corner of West Loomis Road and South 76th Street, into The Rock, a multi-sport complex with a ski hill, baseball fields, mountain biking trails and a BMX track.

Zimmerman has had an operator agreement with the county for six years that was terminated to allow for the purchase.  That agreement included annual lease payments of $25,000, plus a percentage of net revenue.

The county owned the infrastructure at the end of the lease. The county does not have the money to improve Crystal Ridge Drive and did not want to own the buildings on the property.

The purchase agreement frees Milwaukee County of its obligation. The board voted 16-2 to approve the sale, with John Weishan and Willie Johnson opposed.

The agreement also specifies that Zimmerman maintain and replace landfill infrastructure on the ski hill property and prevent storm water runoff into the watershed. Zimmerman is purchasing the property for its appraised value of $840,000, but was given a credit of the annual cost to operate the system, which is $167,000.

Zimmerman and other members of the project team could not immediately be reached for comment.

The City of Franklin approved the site plan for the project in April 2016, but sent developers back with several conditions that needed to be met before moving forward.

Aaron Hertzberg, Franklin’s economic development director, said the Ballpark Commons development group is still working on several aspects of the project, including a traffic impact analysis, parking study and landscaping plan.

“I think the County Board approval gives them some more confidence that they can continue to move forward and complete the project,” Hertzberg said, adding that the developers still intend on breaking ground on phase one this year.

“This was always intended to be a phased project,” Hertzberg said. “We will continue to work with the development team and hope to keep them on schedule.”

Zimmerman’s Ballpark Commons proposal includes the following:

North of West Rawson Avenue:

  • An outdoor, 2,500-seat baseball stadium to serve a minor league team affiliated with the American Association of Professional Baseball and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee baseball team.
  • An indoor sports facility, with attached retail and restaurant space.
  • An indoor/outdoor golf center for year-round activity, with associated retail and restaurant space.
  • Retail and restaurant buildings on out-lots and in proximity to other buildings.
  • A multi-story mixed-use commercial building, to include restaurant/retail space on the ground floor with office uses above.
  • Mixed-use buildings with ground floor retail/restaurant spaces and apartments on upper floors.
  • Much of the existing Rock Sports Complex would remain, including the ball fields, ski hill and umbrella bar.
  • The existing BMX track would be removed or relocated.
  • Sidewalks and an extension of the Oak Leaf Trail.

South of West Rawson Avenue:

  • Mixed-use commercial buildings with potential for ground floor retail and restaurant spaces and office. Up to 70 apartments on the upper floors.
  • A hotel up to five stories near West Loomis Road.
  • Approximately 300 apartments built in six three-story buildings.
  • Sidewalks and future extension of the Oak Leaf Trail.

In September 2016, the City of Franklin’s Common Council approved a $26.8 million special taxing district to help fund the development.

The Ballpark Commons project will be before the County Board in July or September for a final vote.

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