Is Hales Corners Ice Rink Project Dead?
The leader of private/public project says so, now that county demands its $75,000 back.
In 2015, Milwaukee County gave the Friends of Hales Corners Park and Pool $75,000 for an ice rink project. Now, with no ice rink in sight, county officials are saying they want the money back.
The friend’s group, led by Donald G. Schwartz, began work in 2011 on the Alyson Dudek International Ice Center. Dudek, a short-track speed skater and Hales Corners native, won an Olympic Bronze medal in 2010 as part of the U.S. 3000-meter relay team. The general plan for the project, as explained in a 2014 report from the parks department, calls for an open-air picnic shelter with restrooms and a concession area, pathways and a temporary, seasonal, 20,000-square-foot, ice-skating rink.
Despite a groundbreaking for the project in 2015, the rink still has not been completed. And the friends group still has not raised enough money. The latest report on the project from Milwaukee County Parks says the group has approximately $185,000 committed to the project, which has an estimated construction cost of approximately $340,000.
“At this time, Parks has determined that the [county] funding would be better used if it was reallocated to other needs in Milwaukee County Parks and Parks has requested [the friend’s group] return the funding,” the report states.
On Jan. 25, Sup. Patti Logsdon, who represents Hales Corners, went before the board’s Committee on Audit and asked her colleagues to approve an audit of the friend group. The leader of the friends group, Schwartz, ran against Logsdon for a seat on the county board in 2022.
Parks officials told supervisors they do not think an audit is necessary. The group was already audited by the county from 2016 to 2019, and it continues to provide annual financial reports to the county. “It’s very clear, for a small group, they’re doing a lot as far as reporting goes,” said Erica Goblet, parks contracts manager.
Schwartz provided testimony to the committee and sought to defend the project and his organization. He asked supervisors to ignore the parks department’s request for the return of the money, and instead give him until the summer of 2024 to raise the funds needed for the ice rink. In 2017, the county approved a development agreement for the project that expires in 2024. “If we don’t have that money raised by the summer of 2024, I’ll return it all,” he said.
The county funding represents approximately 40% of the total money the friends group has available for the project to date. And Schwartz was fighting for the project’s life, noting that the earlier audit of his organization has made it hard to raise money. “We had to go through all these bureaucratic requirements with Milwaukee County, and I voiced it at every step of the way, I said this is hurting our fundraising because people are talking and they don’t believe the project will ever happen,” he told supervisors.
Schwartz, though, did not make it easy for supervisors seeking to understand the status of the project. He repeatedly ignored requests by committee chair Sup. Felesia Martin to “get to the crux” and explain the status of the project. Schwartz began his testimony with a history of his organization, founded approximately two decades ago, and despite pointed questions sought to explain the project step by step since it began more than a decade ago.
“What’s the status of the project today?” Martin asked.
“Okay, well this all ties in,” Schwartz said.
“No, I need for you to get to the point, let us know what the status of the project is today,” Martin said. “I don’t want to go on and on about what happened.”
“Ok, respectfully, can I just say something?” Schwartz said. “Mark Belling went on the radio program three times.”
“I’m not interested in Mark Belling, sir, we want to speak to items that are before us,” Martin said. “No filibustering please.”
“I was just trying to give you the history, ok? I hear you,” Schwartz said.
“I don’t need the history. I’m asking you to speak to what is going on today,” Martin said. “This is 2023, let’s talk about today.”
After another preamble lasting roughly three minutes, and another prodding to speed it up by Martin, Schwartz told the supervisors, “Here’s where we are right now… given the monies that were lost because of bureaucratic processes that we had to jump through, we have about $184,000 in the bank.”
Another supervisor said he thought the county should get its money back.
“I completely agree with parks that we should get our $75,000 back, ASAP, because it just doesn’t look to me like this is happening,” said Sup. Tony Staskunas. The supervisor said he agreed that an audit likely isn’t necessary. “It seems to me like they’ve bitten off a lot more than they can chew in raising money for this ice skating rink.”
Schwartz told supervisors that returning the county’s money will “officially kill the project.” But they were not moved by this and asked him when they could expect the county’s money back.
“Within a month,” he said.