Gorman drops Ridgewood plans

Fitchburg – Redevelopment of Ridgewood Country Club Estates will move forward, new owner E.J. Plesko and Mayor Tom Clauder promised, despite Monday’s stunning withdrawal from the project by Madison developer Gary Gorman in a disagreement over issues of “vision” and decision-making control with the 52-acre apartment complex’s new owner.

“After a series of discussions with E.J. Plesko & Associates, the new owner of Ridgewood, our team concluded that we do not share a common vision for the property and regrettably had no choice but to withdraw,” Gorman announced in a press release Monday afternoon.

Plesko pledged in a statement released this morning to continue to redevelop the property: “I want to assure the community of Fitchburg that our commitment is absolutely solid and that we have taken immediate steps to move this project forward.”

Explaining his withdrawal as developer, Gorman said, “There aren’t specific things, although I think it’s fair to say E.J.’s vision is more conventional than ours. We truly embraced the urban village type of approach. He’s more conventional. Nobody’s right and nobody’s wrong.”

Plesko, a Madison investor, settled a foreclosure action against the 832-apartment complex’s West Allis owners two weeks ago by buying it for a reported $29 million from bankers holding the mortgage.

“The real estate redevelopment business is a continuing process and a business that is not without bumps in the road,” Plesko said in the statement. “We are moving forward with this project. We enjoyed working with Gary Gorman and his folks, and we are putting the team together to accomplish what we set out to do. We have an excellent working relationship with Fitchburg Mayor Tom Clauder and the City Council, and we’ll continue on that road as we move the project forward.”

Clauder said Monday he assured fellow city officials and staff, “We’re changing the jockey, we’re still going (forward.)” Clauder said Gorman called him on his cell phone while the mayor was driving Sunday afternoon. Hearing Gorman’s decision, “I almost hit a big old oak tree,” Clauder confessed.

Clauder and other officials persuaded Gorman, a Fitchburg resident, to take on the redevelopment project after a series of discussions earlier this year. The city has been working with Gorman to write an urban renewal plan for the physically and financially neglected neighborhood. The city now must shift gears to work with Plesko, who apparently has assumed the added role of developer.

Gorman said originally Plesko was to be the owner, (and) Gorman & Company the developer and decision maker. Discussions in the following two weeks yielded a different picture.

“E.J. wanted to have a vigorous voice in the process, and I came to the conclusion that you can’t have two pilots flying the airplane.” “He has a $30 million investment and I don’t,” said Gorman, a high-profile developer behind several other projects under way or being planned in Fitchburg, Madison and other communities in Wisconsin and other states.

After Plesko’s announcement of buying the Ridgewood complex, Gorman described a vision of an “urban village” containing rental and owner-occupied apartments, condominiums and houses within walking distance to shopping, open space, recreation and other amenities.

Plesko’s assumption of control leaves in question those ideas as well as the fate of the city-owned Nine Springs Golf Course, an issue that aroused strong concern of residents during public meetings on the project early this year.

Clauder noted that except for the golf course, “Its private property. It doesn’t belong to the city.”

Plesko said he had retained Fiduciary Real Estate of Milwaukee to continue as property manager while redevelopment continues. In addition, Madison-based Suby, Von Haden & Associates will consult on the project, a new real estate legal counsel will be hired, the current urban land master planner will be retained and a highly respected redevelopment company will become part of the team.