The Milwaukee County Board Thursday voted to permit the City of Greenfield to run Kulwicki Park for one year. This is a dramatic shift from the original proposal that would have created up to a 30-year lease agreement, advocated by Supervisor Tony Staskunas, who represents Greenfield.
Staskunas called the compromised approach a tryout. "(We'll be) watching how the City of Greenfield takes care of the park. Supervisor (John) Weishan and I talked about it, if things go well over this year, we can revisit the main proposal later."
Weishan opposed the lease plan, saying it gave Greenfield too much control. The two supervisors sat down and came up with the one-year trial period.
Supervisor Staskunas says it also gives the Greenfield Little League "some relief." The group uses Kulwicki Park's fields and pays Milwaukee County Parks an annual fee. It recently rose from $6,000 to $17,000.
Original Story, September 20:
While the Milwaukee County Parks system is rich in greenspace, it is low on cash. The department hopes to lease one of its parks to help relieve a bit of its more than $240 million in deferred maintenance.
Parks director John Dargle told the Milwaukee County Parks, Energy and Environment Committee Tuesday that the plan to lease Kulwicki Park to the City of Greenfield is a sound financial move.
“This, in effect, will allow us to move our resources to other parks that need support," he explains, "and there will be a cost savings for us that I think net positive in this agreement."
The City of Greenfield has been negotiating with Milwaukee County for several years to try to work out a lease.
“When I talk to people, there are all sorts of huge global issues that need to be resolved with regard to money, not only parks, but in paramedics and police officers and roads and highways and all those things, but the people I report to want this park to not go to heck,” Greenfield Mayor Michael Neitzke says.
Kulwicki Park, only 28 acres in size, is located due west of where Hwys 43 and 41 intersect, and includes a pavilion and a picnic area. Wildcat Creek runs through it.
The park also proudly boasts four Little League diamonds. James Zacher is president of the program that has called Kulwicki Park home for years. In fact, the Little League program even paid to build a concession stand there.
The program also pays County Parks to use the fields. Zacher says recently the fee increased dramatically: “In 2013, 2014, we were paying roughly $5,000 to $6,000 in field usage fees for the season. As we stand today, our field usage we got charged for is in excess of $17,000."
The increase forced him to charge families higher fees, he explains. “We lost roughly around 75 kids for families who said Little League was getting too expensive to pay."
If the lease agreement goes through, Zacher says, Little League will be able to afford to stay at Kulwicki. And, he adds, “We can again start again investing some of the money we raise back into the fields as well.”
Supervisor Tony Staskunas represents Greenfield and says before Kulwicki Park was created, the parcel was just a blip on the landscape. In the early 1990s, residents set out to honor the memory of a local kid made good - race car driver Alan Kulwicki , who won the 1992 NASCAR title. The community raised $1.3 million and created the park.
Kulwicki is not one of the system’s longstanding parks, Staskunas further explains. While the parks system goes back to 1907, Greenfield turned Kulwicki Park over to Milwaukee County in 1996.
“It’s important to remember the history because in a few minutes you’re going to hear from a couple of speakers who talk about things like two-tiered park systems and breaking up the emerald necklace and everything. This is such a unique scenario – again it’s a park that’s only been part of our system for a short time and we didn’t invest in it – it was created privately,” Staskunas says.
As he predicted, voices of opposition followed.
Some people fear “handing over” Kulwicki to Greenfield could signal the end of the Milwaukee County Parks system.
County Supervisor John Weishan says the proposed lease gives Greenfield too much control - 15 years, with three possible extensions of 5 years each - and he calls the lease language vague.
“Everybody keeps talking about improvements. There is absolutely nothing in the agreement that says what those improvements are and when they will be completed…. I don’t see anything in this document that says anything that the City of Greenfield is legally obligated to put one penny into this park,” Weishan says.
There’s no stauncher proponent of a consolidated park system than Gerry Broderick.
The former longtime county supervisor and parks committee chair insists spreading resources among many, reduces the overall cost to operate the parks.
“This proposal moves in precisely the opposite direction of consolidation," Broderick says. "Treating a system-wide problem of deferred maintenance…..by placing costs on the residents of Greenfield, for the upkeep of their park. But of course, in a consolidated system there are no 'my parks' and 'their parks,' there are only 'our parks' to be used and shared equally by the citizens of Milwaukee, the taxpaying citizens of Milwaukee County.”
As the county parks committee approved the resolution with a 2-1 vote, Broderick laments to anyone who would listen: “Parks are being squeezed to produce revenue, which was not their designed purpose."
The full county board will take up the proposal at its September 28 meeting.
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