I have some analysis but first I’ll address the above question immediately.
The mayor is definitely for Ballpark Commons. However, my answer to my own question comes with a qualifier. I wouldn’t put the mayor in the “staunch supporter” category.
I’m going to make an analogy that while admittedly isn’t 100%, I submit it’s pretty darn close.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s I covered the Miller Park debate while working at WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio and subsequently at WTMJ, there as a reporter and a frequent fill-in for talk show host Charlie Sykes at the time who was on a book tour. Our news coverage won several awards.
If you were around at the time you recall how tumultuous and controversial the entire stadium debate was, especially in the state Legislature and primarily in the state Senate.
The state Assembly had already approved stadium funding and it was then up to the state Senate, run by Republicans, but only with a razor-thin majority. Mike Ellis from Neenah was the Senate Majority Leader.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel photo of Mike Ellis.
In 2013 the newspaper did a fine profile of Ellis that included this nugget:
It was Ellis, then Senate majority leader, who shepherded through the controversial 1995 bill to build Miller Park. Even though he voted against the measure, he allowed it to come up for a vote three times before it passed. His governor, Tommy Thompson, was behind the bill, and so was his caucus. So, Ellis, the team player, let it through with Democratic help.
He says “caving in on the Brewers’ stadium” was the biggest mistake he made in politics.
After WTMJ I then went to work for Ellis and the state Senate Republicans. I learned that Ellis was never thrilled with funding the ballpark, but the Journal Sentinel was correct. Despite his misgivings, and his NO vote, Ellis still allowed the issue to make its way through the process. At any point once the stadium bill got to the Senate, Ellis had at his disposal any number of ways to simply kill it. But he didn’t.
Ellis brought the bill back to the Senate floor after it failed a couple of times during a marathon session, allowing Senator George Petak to change his vote to AYE, the vote that saved major league baseball in Milwaukee.
I’ve been wanting to write this installment for almost a year, but I held off because I wanted to make sure my hunch, my theory wasn’t off-base. And now I think I was more or less correct.
Though the comparison isn’t exact, I believe Mayor Olson’s handling of the long-disputed Ballpark Commons was very similar to Ellis’ handling of the Brewer stadium legislation.
Knowing the mayor has a consistent disdain for state government I’ll bet he’s not at all enamored with being likened to Mike Ellis. Heck, Olson might be sputtering WTH at his computer right now.
But this is not an indictment of Olson or Ellis.
I think it’s safe to say like Ellis, Olson had reservations about the stadium dilemma he had to grapple with. Like Ellis, Olson was not a constant gung-ho cheerleader during the process.
But like Ellis, Olson never threw thumbtacks in the road. Like Ellis, Olson made sure Ballpark Commons got more than a fair shake, and ultimately, the necessary votes to succeed.
As a supporter of both stadium efforts, I commend Ellis and Olson.
Having said all that, if Olson is supportive of Ballpark Commons, and I’ve already submitted I know he is, he sort of has an odd way of showing it.
At the groundbreaking earlier this month Mayor Olson said he and Mike Zimmerman, chief executive officer of ROC Ventures and the developer for Ballpark Commons shared a goal “to bring to Franklin and SE Wisconsin an amazing entertainment venue that is not focused on just one sport or activity.”
Rightfully so, the mayor was enjoying himself.
But as reported by the Journal Sentinel, just weeks later “Mayor Steve Olson’s joy for the massive development turned somewhat sour” because a senior housing project with memory care units at the site was approved by the plan commission.
The mayor went off, calling the senior housing the “wrong facility in the wrong part of town for the wrong reason in the wrong development.”
Excuse me. We knew rental housing would be part of the mix in the development. Now because seniors would be living there it’s an issue?
Since this is Franklin (where we can’t do anything nice without people going crazy) and this development’s progress has not exactly been a walk in the park, there are two ways to respond.
1) My response. The mayor’s comments were too harsh. This is a great addition to a great project.
2) Then there’s the response the mayor ignited and fueled with the NIMBY crowd that doesn’t want any rental properties in Franklin, whether they’re high quality or not.
Read carefully. I’m not suggesting the mayor is anti-seniors. Not at all.
However, with a lot of folks that’s how it’s going to sound and come off.
Seniors have no place at Ballpark Commons? Maybe we should just put up a huge sign at the site:
SENIORS NOT WELCOME HERE
I’d remind anyone that foolishly and ignorantly thinks Ballpark Commons should be geared only to far younger people what that is called: discriminatory.
When the plan commission overwhelmingly approved the senior housing the mayor should have applauded the concept and then respectfully added that this component might, might pose some challenges that the city will consider…and work out. Instead he tossed bombs.
The mayor’s reaction, though not intended to be I’m sure, was divisive, and has only served to incite a certain faction of the community just a few weeks after we were celebrating a hard-fought victory that took five years of contention.
But I repeat. This is Franklin. As my father used to say, we could mess up a one-car funeral. And I’m sorry to say that despite how far we’ve come I see more choppy waters ahead.