Milwaukee nonprofit leaders planning $80 million athletic center on city’s north side

A Kahler Slater rendering of The Opportunity Center.

Last updated on August 31st, 2021 at 10:34 pm

An $80 million multi-sport facility is planned for Milwaukee’s north side that is designed to serve people across the spectrum of ability and income levels.

Organizers of the project, called The Opportunity Center, say it will be the “first urban sports center of its kind.”

The 300,000-square-foot facility is planned for 4206 N. Green Bay Ave., at the intersection of I-43, Green Bay Avenue and Capitol Drive – near the border of Milwaukee and Glendale. The center would be designed to make programming accessible to those with physical and developmental disabilities.

The project is being spearheaded by Franklin Cumberbatch, who is also vice president for engagement of Bader Philanthropies, and Damian Buchman, founder of The Ability Center, a Wauwatosa-based nonprofit organization that advocates for universal, inclusive and adaptive recreation opportunities. TAC most recently partnered with Summerfest on its new accessible Northwestern Mutual Community Park.

The Opportunity Center was recently approved for a $2.5 million loan from the Milwaukee Economic Development Corp., which will fund the purchase of the 22-acre parcel and help fuel the next phase of fundraising. Project organizers are aiming to raise $9 million by the end of the year, and eventually the total $80 million to complete the project by 2024.

“My co-founder Franklin Cumberbatch and I have both experienced the transformational impact that belonging to an athletic community can have on a child’s trajectory in life,” said Buchman. “We see a tremendous opportunity to replicate this experience for thousands of young people in our community that are facing tough odds, and we know it can inspire them to greatness too.”

The center is estimated to bring in one million visits annually and $15 million of economic impact for the county, project leaders say.

Features of the center will include an urban wellness institute offering health and wellness education, programming to help “overcome racial economic and ability-based divides” in the city and academically earned athletic programming.

During the planning phase, the project has received support from a range of community leaders, its organizers say.

IndependenceFirst, a Milwaukee-based organization that serves individuals with disabilities, is among the project’s partners.

“The Opportunity Center will truly be a gathering place for all – regardless of race, gender, ability, or socio-economic status – and aims to bridge divides, inspire disadvantaged youth, and inspire our community to dream big about solutions to overcome our differences,” said Marci Boucher, president and chief executive officer of IndependenceFirst.

Local speaker and coach David Cooks is heading the center’s executive leadership council.

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Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits and education for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism. In her free time, Lauren enjoys hiking, kayaking, and seeing live music.

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