With local investor on board, Ridgewood future lookin’ up

Developer Gary Gorman’s vision of turning Ridgewood County Club apartments into an “urban village” is brighter, now that local investors E.J. Plesko and Associates have bought the 832-apartment complex for $29 million.

City officials joined Gorman on Saturday to announce the purchase deal, which wipes out a mortgage foreclosure action that complicated efforts to redevelop the 52-acre property surrounding the city-owned Nine Springs Golf Course west of Fish Hatchery Road.

Gorman called the Plesko purchase agreement “a huge positive step to eliminating the uncertainty about the redevelopment plan.”

US Bank and Trust Co. filed the foreclosure case in Dane County Circuit Court in April against the West Allis owners, Ridgewood Associates II, Harry and Jerry Marek and Dan Pieper and their management company, CMS Ridgewood of Geneva, IL.

Those parties are removed from the picture, leaving Gorman working with Plesko on redevelopment. They said they will keep Fiduciary Real Estate Development Co. of Milwaukee, the court-appointed property managers that took over the complex in the foreclosure case, to continue in that role while the redevelopment plans are being worked out with the city.

Asked Sunday to describe his vision for Ridgewood, Gorman said, “I’m hoping it will be an urban village where people can walk to shop and walk to the library and have access to greenspace.” He sees “more natural greenspace” with walking and biking paths providing non-automobile travel options to residents.

“I certainly expect a mix of housing types. It won’t be 832 rental apartments,” as it is now. The mix may include condominiums and other owner-occupied homes in addition to rental housing, “significant new commercial and shopping” space, and public use features.

Ridgewood is one of three locations recently recommended by a city committee as possible sites for Fitchburg’s first library. Gorman said he hopes the Ridgewood site will be chosen.

Some buildings will be demolished, others rehabilitated, but Gorman said it is too early to guess at the numbers.

“We are hoping to treat current residents in a sensitive fashion,” he said. At the press conference it was suggested that tenants displaced by demolition or major rehabilitation can be moved to vacant apartments in the complex.

“The residents are the highest priority,” Gorman told reporters. “The first thing we did was to engage the residents in the redevelopment process,” and they and neighbors will continue to be included, he said.

Among his early discussions with residents was a meeting with a class of Ridgewood first and second-graders taught by Troy Dassler at Leopold School. The Spanish-speaking youngsters and their crayon drawings and letters were featured in The Capital Times last winter. Gorman said he made the visit in response to their invitation to him reported by the newspaper.

“It was fun,” he said. He speaks “far from fluent” Spanish, he said, but was able to communicate with them in words and by watching a slide show Dassler helped them assemble illustrating their fears and hopes.

In other discussions with residents, Gorman said he had learned a great deal. “They have offered a broad spectrum of opinions. They want to be treated with respect in regards to their circumstances,” he said, but noted that they recognize that some buildings must be torn down rather than just fixed up.

“What impresses me is that many of the residents have the greater good of the community at heart, not just their own needs,” he told the press conference. He added Sunday that he believes some current residents are potentially eligible to become home buyers but need help navigating the language, cultural and knowledge barriers – such as knowing how to get a mortgage and how insurance works – that stand in their way.

He hopes to get present city officials to agree with a redevelopment plan this fall, move it through governmental approval processes during the winter and break ground for construction by mid or late summer. “It will certainly be a staged process, over a number of years.”

Before it can begin, he said, there are many “financial, political and social perspectives (that) have to weave themselves together in a way that coordinates.”