Jun 4, 2015, Sean Ryan Milwaukee Business Journal
The Milwaukee Plan Commission will review the project on Monday.
Milwaukee Ald. Tony Zielinski opposes a planned private school on Milwaukee’s near south side, saying the project site instead should be saved for an indoor soccer facility for the community.
The proposed K-12 private school, valued at $60 million over two phases, is led by Husco International executive chairman Gus Ramirez. It is proposed at South Sixth Street and Harrison Avenue, on a property that Zielinski and other stakeholders had hoped would one day host a 100,000-square-foot soccer facility for the community. That facility was intended to give area youths something to do during the winter months.
Zielinski said there are no groups currently trying to bring that facility together. That soccer facility remains the highest and best use of the land, he said.
“I know the intentions are good,” he said of Ramirez’s school plan. “We have a difference of opinion, that’s all.”
Ramirez’s development team has acquired several properties for the school project, including 5.3 acres purchased in January from Joel Lee, a Milwaukee developer. Lee, working in partnership with a local task force, years ago bought that land with the intention of building a soccer facility there. The project never came to fruition, and Lee agreed to sell it to Ramirez with his commitment to make the athletic fields available to the community. Ramirez has pledged to let the community use the project’s planned gym and outdoor soccer field when the school is not in session.
Lee said he agreed to contribute $1 million to Ramirez’s project if he includes the proposed larger gym, which would have room for futsal courts, and the outdoor soccer field that youths in the community can use.
“I just want to see the kids who have been waiting for 10 years have an opportunity to participate,” Lee said.
However, Ramirez has not put any commitment in writing, a commitment Zielinski said he wants.
“The owner isn’t willing to commit in any legally binding way to access to the sports facility,” Zielinski said. “I think that’s a very reasonable request.”
Ramirez, at a public meeting on the project Wednesday, rejected putting that commitment in writing.
“No, that’s my commitment and I don’t do agreements on things I say because my word is primo,” he said.
Zielinski said he will urge the Milwaukee Common Council to reject the project when it comes under review this summer. That could be significant given the Common Council’s usual practice of following the wishes of the local alderman when considering zoning issues.
“What I’m going to try to do if this gets defeated is try to put together a team of interested parties to purchase this land,” Zielinski said.
If the Common Council rejects the project, Ramirez will likely seek approval for a scaled-down school from the Board of Zoning Appeals on a smaller land footprint. Under that scenario, the outdoor soccer field would be removed and the gym could be scaled back, he said Wednesday.
“Over half of the property is already rezoned in a way where a school could be built,” Ramirez said. “The rezoning is necessary for us to build the type of athletic facilities that we need.”