If you wonder why certain things don't move forward in Franklin, perhaps the following will give you a taste of the sort of attitude that creates municipal inertia.
An interesting sequence of events at last night's Economic Development Commission meeting. With just enough members present to create a quorum, we addressed the following agenda item:
Presentation by Hitters Baseball Academy concerning plans for a new baseball facility located on South 27th Street near County Line Road
The pitch was straightforward enough: Hitters Baseball Academy, currently operating in Racine, sees an opportunity to create a year-round, indoor/outdoor baseball facility on what is now a soybean field on the edge of town. An 80,000 square foot building would be built on the land along with four full-sized turf baseball fields (turf ballfields remain green year-round). The owners of the land are ready to fully finance the project; they could break ground tomorrow. They are asking for no financial support or incentives from the city.
When presented to the Common Council, there was evidently a hang-up with "27th Street Corridor design standards" -- not very relevant, as the complex would be set far back from 27th Street (one might conjecture that restaurants and even hotels might locate on 27th street to support the baseball facility, and they would have to conform to the design standard).
Hitter's has a business plan that includes past performance. They've grown steadily in their Racine location, and have consistently brought in traveling teams and visitor traffic that rent rooms and use restaurants. Franklin would be home to an attraction that would fuel surrounding commercial development.
No-brainer: Whether or not you think Hitter's is right for the area, let's take a close look at this possibility, right?
One particular EDC Commissioner said the following:
"Just to remind the commissioners, about a year and a half ago we set forth direction for the southeastern quadrant of the city to be high-value business development, and this is one of the parcels that is recommended as part of the Comprehensive Master Plan that is going on. The dollars-per-acre that we would yield in high-value business development would be different from this; totally different concept."
"If we're looking to build tax base in the city of Franklin, this will not build the type of tax base that this portion of the city was talking about doing a year and half ago."
However, further questioning of the Hitters rep revealed a very, very significant factor: The landowners would lease the land and buildings to Hitters Baseball Academy. If another Northwestern Mutual or Wheaton Medical Center were to express interest in the land -- of course, creating a greater payoff for the owners of the land and higher dollars-per-acre value for the city --the baseball faculty would vacate. They could roll up the fields in a weekend, evidently.
Furthermore (the substance of my comments at the meeting): Any economic development assumptions made a year and a half ago (or, indeed, six months ago!) are, frankly, worthless today. I've said it before: The road that got you here won't get you there. We either remain flexible and creative, constantly re-assessing conditions and outdated notions, or stand like a jilted groom at the altar, waiting in vain for the sort of early-90s style development that is now past history.
EDC Chairman Skowronski said it best: "A bird in the hand...".
The EDC is an advisory body; we can only recommend action to the Common Council. So the motion was made that the EDC recommend to the Common Council that they investigate the potential of the project.
Read that again: The EDC voted on nothing more than whether to recommend further study of the project in light of changing economic conditions and the unique parameters of the project.
The motion does not say, "Yep - BUILD IT!" It says, "Let's look into this - we're not necessarily for or against it, but it may have potential."
Let the record show that every commissioner voted "aye," except for the commissioner I quoted at length above, who voted "no".
He left before I could ask him, with all due respect, exactly what he was voting against.