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Stakeholders pitch Snappers stadium to Beloit City Council


Key stakeholders looking to build a downtown stadium for the Beloit Snappers baseball team made their first pitch to the Beloit City Council and residents Monday night.

Potential team owner Quint Studer and John Gackstetter, senior vice president of development at Hendricks Commercial Properties, presented conceptual plans and a tentative timeline for relocating the Snappers to a stadium on 7 acres west of Beloit City Hall by Opening Day 2021.

The project is estimated to cost $34.2 million and require no public financing, with most of the private investment coming from ABC Supply Chairwoman Diane Hendricks.

Hendricks Commercial Properties will serve as the developer for the project, with architectural design by Jones Petrie Rafinski. Several steps remain in the process, including receiving capital commitments, city council approval of design plans, verification of construction costs and closing on the land sale.

The stadium, which would be built at 217 Shirland Ave., is expected to have a 5,000-seat capacity along with a separate venue for 200 to 300 people for off season events.

Studer said his company, Studer Entertainment and Retail, has had success as owner of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, a minor league baseball team in Florida.

Over seven years, Studer said, Pensacola’s downtown tax base has grown from $675 million to $918 million. Property values there continue to rise.

“It’s not that there wasn’t any development already happening, but this just seems to be the catalyst that pushed it over the top,” Studer told about two dozen people at Monday’s meeting. “There’s never been a downtown stadium that hasn’t done well at the minor league level.”

Gackstetter said the stadium would be downtown Beloit’s “next step” in offering a “flexible entertainment venue.”

Key concerns residents voiced Monday included onsite parking and how the development would affect the riverfront’s natural environment.

Studer addressed the parking issue, saying the Blue Wahoos’ stadium has only 300 designated parking spaces, but the team has seen consecutive Saturday night sellouts for the last eight years.

“That’s another wild thing because you want people to park and walk to the stadium, and you want them to enjoy themselves downtown,” he said.

Gackstetter said talks continue with the city of South Beloit, Illinois, to acquire land on the opposite side of Shirland Avenue for parking facilities.

The development also would require the closure of Water Street, a process that requires city council review and approval.

Construction is contingent on obtaining an environmental impact statement for the site, which has housed a manufacturing gas plant and a sewer treatment facility.

Gackstetter said project plans call for adding a 2-foot soil cap to the site. All footing and foundation construction would require removal and proper disposal of contaminated soil.

The project also might need a disturbance permit from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources if it is determined that it will significantly affect wildlife along the Rock River.

“This is a very strict and regimented process to go through, and you aren’t going to get building permits if you don’t follow those regulations,” Gackstetter said.

The development would be controlled by the yet-to-be-formed Riverbend Stadium Authority. Studer plans to sign a 20-year lease with the stadium authority to ensure the team stays in Beloit.

After the meeting, Studer and Snappers President Dennis Conerton signed the asset purchase agreement that’s subject to the long-term lease.

Conerton said the stadium authority will seek nonprofit status and have a structure similar to the Snappers board, with a charter agreement and bylaws.

The sale of the team also hinges on approvals from Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball and the Midwest League.

Beloit City Manager Lori Curtis Luther said future meetings will determine if the land for the stadium will be included in a long-term lease or sold outright to the stadium authority.

Luther said it was too early to comment on future plans for Pohlman Field, the longtime home of the Snappers, but she said the process will be public and transparent going forward.

Conerton said the goal is to have all aspects of the sale agreement finalized heading into the MLB’s winter meetings set for Dec. 8-12 in San Diego.

Anthony Wahl 

Shane Lien heads out for some late afternoon fishing from his kayak along the Rock River near Traxler Park on Monday.

California to let college athletes sign endorsement deals


Defying the NCAA, California opened the way Monday for college athletes to hire agents and make money from endorsement deals with sneaker companies, soft drink makers, car dealerships and other sponsors, just like the pros.

The first-in-the-nation law, signed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and set to take effect in 2023, could upend amateur sports in the U.S. and trigger a legal challenge.

Newsom and others cast it as an attempt to bring more fairness to big-money college athletics and let players share in the wealth they create for their schools. Critics have long complained that universities are getting rich off the backs of athletes—often black athletes struggling to get by financially.

“Other college students with a talent, whether it be literature, music or technological innovation, can monetize their skill and hard work,” the governor said. “Student athletes, however, are prohibited from being compensated while their respective colleges and universities make millions, often at great risk to athletes’ health, academics and professional careers.”

Newsom predicted other states will introduce similar legislation.

The NCAA—which had called on him to veto the bill, arguing that it would destroy the distinction between amateurs and pros and give California an unfair recruiting advantage—said it is considering its next steps. It did not elaborate.

In a statement, the NCAA said it is working to revise its rules on making money off a player’s name and likeness. But it said any changes should be made at the national level through the NCAA, not through a patchwork of state laws.

California’s law applies to students at both public and private institutions—but not community colleges—in the nation’s most populous state. While the measure covers all sports, the big money is in football and basketball.

Student athletes won’t get salaries. But under the law, they can’t be stripped of their scholarships or kicked off the team if they sign endorsement deals.

There are some limitations: Athletes can’t enter into deals that conflict with their schools’ existing contracts. For example, if your university has a contract with Nike, you can’t sign with Under Armour.

Before the governor signed the law, the NCAA threatened to bar California universities from competition, meaning powerhouses such as the University of Southern California, UCLA, Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, could find themselves banned. If that were to happen, California schools could form a new governing body and get schools from like-minded states to join, in a threat to the NCAA’s dominance.

But the governor, a former college baseball player, said he doubts the NCAA would kick California schools out, arguing that the state’s 40 million people and status as the world’s fifth-largest economy make it too big to lose.

NCAA rules bar players from hiring agents. The NCAA has also steadfastly refused to pay players in most cases. But a committee is studying other ways players could make money. Its report is expected in October.

Death notices and obituaries for Oct. 1, 2019

Michael J. Fitzgerald

Bonnie G. Hawkins

Barbara J. Huber

Carl John Jaeger

Catherine P. Kitelinger

Rita Ann Koch-Leasure

Dorothy J. Marks

Stanley E. Miller

Cody S. Rivera

Ruby J. Scoviak

Sarah Elizabeth Taormino

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Whitewater shares heartbreak, urgency at meeting on hazardous Highway 12 intersection


Her voice breaking, Mona Schuerman implored state transportation officials to walk through the grassy area near Highway 12 and County N near Whitewater.

She said they would find vehicle debris and food from a camping trip that Kaylinn Wilken, 14, and Olly Koelsch, 7, never got to enjoy.

Schuerman attended Monday’s public meeting about the Highway 12-County N intersection as a family friend, hoping to remind people about the two girls who died after an Aug. 1 crash at that intersection.

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The Department of Transportation originally planned to add flashing yellow lights there in June 2020. But after pressure from the community, the DOT on Aug. 24 added the lights and taller poles to make signs more visible.

“This took too long,” Schuerman said. “There is nothing any one of you are going to say to me to tell me otherwise. This took too long.”

The intersection has been the site of 40 crashes since Jan. 20, 2015, according to Walworth County Sheriff’s Office data. Twenty-one of those resulted in an injury, and two included fatalities.

The first part of Monday’s meeting, which the city posted a video of online, featured an update on what DOT officials know and plan to do about the Highway 12 intersections at County N, Highway 89 and County P.

Legislators and officials at the meeting included Rep. Don Vruwink, D-Milton, and Sen. Janis Ringhand, D-Evansville; Walworth County sheriff’s Capt. Dave Gerber; Whitewater City Manager Cameron Clapper; and three DOT representatives.

While residents have been worried about the intersection at County N/Walworth Avenue for a while, the crash that killed the two girls and another crash that injured two people eight days later have made a solution more of a priority.

Before and after installing the lights with flashing yellow arrows, the DOT set up cameras to study the intersection.

Before the arrows, Dan Dedrick, a safety engineer for the DOT’s southeast region, said it looked like cars turning left onto County N were not leaving much of a gap between themselves and the cars ahead of them. Perhaps this meant drivers weren’t being cautious before entering the intersection, he said.

After the arrows, he said he saw larger gaps between cars. After talking with local police, he learned that the intersection has had no crashes since Aug. 24.

Dedrick also discussed an Aug. 20 speed study on southbound Highway 12, which found the 85th percentile speed of passing cars was 59 mph. He said this is generally what they expected in a 55-mph area like this.

Future work on the intersection, slated for June 2020, includes extending the distance of vehicle detection, which he said affects when the lights change to yellow and then red—a critical moment for drivers either accelerating or braking.

Anthony Wahl 

State legislators and Department of Transportation officials held a public meeting in Whitewater on Monday to discuss this Highway 12 intersection, which has long worried residents.

Vruwink and Ringhand thanked officials for acting on the community’s concerns.

About 20 people attended the meeting. When about eight of them shared their thoughts, they spoke with frustration and a desire for more to be done.

Some suggestions—in some cases, demands—included reducing the speed limit near the intersection to 45 mph, building on- and off-ramps for the bypass, changing the flashing yellow lights to red and green, and adding flashing lights ahead of the intersection to focus drivers.

Dewayne Johnson, DOT director of the southeast region, said 413 fatalities have been reported on Wisconsin highways so far this year. He said no words can compensate for the loss of life.

“Sometimes if you can go back and back up time and start again, knowing certain things, you can make certain decisions,” he said. “I think this is one of the situations where we would certainly like to have a do-over and have made some decisions earlier.

“Unfortunately, that’s not the case.”

He said the DOT has to operate with finite resources for projects across the state.

Still, he thanked people for sharing their pain. He said engineers can get lost in rules and policies.

Schuerman said she and her family made the “difficult” trip to the intersection twice. She said she appreciated the changes so far, “but they were a long time coming.”

“These things are not acceptable. If you have children at home, can you not feel what the Wilkens and the Koelsches are feeling right now?” she asked. “Think a little. I don’t care about your studies. I truly don’t.”

Holding photos, she said Kaylinn and Olly won’t be forgotten. She wants everyone who drives through that intersection to remember them.

The safety measures came too late to save them.

“It took too long,” she said.