Evan Frank, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Published 10:56 a.m. CT March 4, 2020 | Updated 12:16 p.m. CT March 4, 2020
After purposing a baseball facility in two other Waukesha County municipalities, Tim Neubert, Tom Kelenic and Sonny Bando have finally achieved what they set out to do nearly three years ago.
At the March 3 City of Oconomowoc Common Council meeting, the three applicants, which make up Blue Ribbon Baseball, received unanimous approval to construct a 2,500-seat baseball stadium and 43,000-square-foot indoor health and wellness training center.
The facility will sit on 21 acres directly west of Wisconsin Harley-Davidson, on the southwest corner of I-94 and Highway 67.
“Oconomowoc is progressive and they want to do something that is unique for their city,” Neubert said. “They were unbelievably cooperative, but at the same time they listened to opposition. They took all of the information and gave us what we thought was a very fair opportunity to bring this development back in front of them.
“We made a lot of concessions, we found some common ground with some of our neighbors. In the end, we found there was some compromise and that afforded us the ability to move forward and ultimately get the votes to get it done.”
Alcohol sales a hot topic
The public hearing for the project, which continued from a Feb. 18 meeting, went two hours with people speaking on both sides of the issue. One of the hot topics for the council was when alcohol sales should be discontinued.
In the proposed conditional-use permit, alcohol sales would stop after the seventh inning, but Neubert wanted to have sales end after the eighth. The city ultimately gave Neubert what he wanted.
“Nobody is sitting here suggesting that by extending it by another inning we’re going to create many more drunken drivers,” Neubert said to the council. “We have to police that from the first inning all the way through the end of the game.”
Ald. Matt Rosek was in favor of having sales end after the seventh inning.
“Miller Park stops serving at the end of the seventh inning,” Rosek said. “How is this any different?”
Several aldermen, including Charlie Shaw and Tom Strey, said the council should not put a limit on when Blue Ribbon Baseball should stop serving alcohol.
“If Alderman Strey and I go to the game and he’s driving, I shouldn’t be restricted on when I have a beer,” Shaw said. “It’s up to people to do the right thing.”
After a 4-4 vote, Mayor Dave Nold cast the tiebreaking vote in favor of taking away the restriction.
“I think they looked at it from a business perspective and they recognized whether we would stop selling at the end of the seventh or the eighth, we have an ultimate responsibility to make sure with having a liquor license we need to be responsible,” Neubert said after the vote. “What was most positive is that they saw we’re a business, a for-profit entity and in the end they were in a position to give us that flexibility.”
Longer hours for sporting events
Hours of operation for non-athletic activities will be 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The council noted Blue Ribbon Baseball could obtain and receive a special-use permit to allow certain events to go longer.
For athletic activities, the hours will be 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Those hours could be extended if there is a documented weather delay.
Neubert said the next step for the project will be to secure a Northwoods League team, which is comprised of college players in the summer.
“(Getting the facility approved in the city) was the biggest hurdle,” Neubert said. “So much of our discussion still falls back on if we’re going to get it approved. Now that it is we can go back and say, ‘OK, that formality has been taken care of and we can get back to negotiation and how to bring it all together.’ It’s unbelievable and we’re going to get it done. It’s just a matter of kind of working through all the different scenarios.”
The project could break ground in June with an opening projected for summer 2021.
“There’s been a lot of nasty rhetoric back and forth between (people who wanted the project and people who didn’t),” Ald. Karen Spiegelberg said. “It really disappointed me and made me sad because I just don’t think that’s who we are as Oconomowoc. I think in the last couple weeks things toned down a little bit, but I hope everybody can rally behind this project now. I think it’s a good thing for our community. I’m trusting Blue Ribbon Baseball will be a good neighbor to everybody around them.”