The Background Story
Milwaukee Sting has been renting courts since our club began in 1989. During our first eight years we had 4 courts in a high school field house. The only time available to us was Saturdays from 6-9 p.m. and Sundays from 1-6 p.m. Once the basketball season was over in early March, we were able to add a weekday practice.

Amazingly, with those awful times, we were able to attract and retain a quality coaching staff and have national success competitively. Since then we have leased courts in volleyball facilities owned by non-club owners that had a need to serve other clubs in the area, so our time was limited, but we were able to add office and storage space. Most recently we leased courts at two separate facilities about ten minutes apart. But again, we did not control the times available to us.

The Process
Like every other club, we dreamt of having a place of our own with full control over the training schedule along with the ability to host tournaments. At the same time, we didn’t want to depend on tournaments every week to pay the bills. About eight years ago we started a building fund. We held an annual golf outing, dinner, and auction. Any surplus we could scrape up went into the fund. Three years ago, we started to search sites, mainly warehouse build-outs that would provide a more affordable investment and less risk than building from scratch.

Milwaukee Sting is a 501c3 with a board of directors. As you know, doing anything by committee is a slower process. Someone would have issues with pricing or location or lack of parking, etc. We lost one good site two years ago because we didn’t act quickly enough. This past spring and summer we almost sealed the deal on a site. As we negotiated the contract, it became apparent that we wanted this so bad that we were making concessions to our plans. Wisely, we walked away.

Three days after walking away from that deal, I was visiting with a neighbor who is a contractor. He told me he was bidding on a project and he felt like it was something that might work for us. He invited me to tag along to see the site.

The Right Fit
It was perfect! The site is a former Kohl’s Distribution Center that the Village of Menomonee Falls had purchased from Kohl’s in a deal to locate their corporate headquarters in the Menomonee Falls three years ago.

Building Layout:

  • The parking lot holds over 500 cars.
  • The full building is just under 400,000 sq. ft.
  • Most of it is low ceiling storage and office space. However, there was an area of about 53,000 square feet that had a 28′ ceiling, surrounded on 3 sides by a very deep mezzanine
  • Enough space for 10 training courts/8 competition courts
  • Plenty of surrounding space for spectators, bags, training room, physical fitness center, etc.
  • Just off of the arena area is a full kitchen/cafeteria
  • 18 stall women’s bathroom, large men’s room
  • Conference room and offices.
  • There is a patio next to the main entrance near the loading docks where we hope to put down sand courts next summer.
  • Oh yes, and it has AC!

There were signs posted along the back of the parking lot for employee meeting spots to be transferred to the main Kohl’s building. The signsread “Rally Point”: an omen that this would indeed be our future home.

The Negotiation
Coakley and Co. was buying the building for their data and information storage business. Less than an hour after visiting the site, I got a phone call from Mike Coakley, the President of the company, and the start of a great partnership.

The fact that broker did not find the space for us saved both groups a few hundred thousand dollars. My neighbor, John, as a contractor and his wife Teresa who is in real estate development were both very helpful in advising us on what was reasonable to ask for. Mike’s negotiating tactic is “hands on the table”. We outlined what we needed, how much of an investment in equipment we were going to have to contribute to the project, what our financial restrictions were with our current leases and the fact that our “move in date” mid-season was not ideal. We came to an agreement that was very advantageous and agreed to the lease.

The Village Approval
There were three major dates we needed to clear. Since the area that the building is located on is zoned for industrial use, we needed to secure a Conditional Use Permit to be able to hold recreational activities in the building. The Village of Menomonee Falls was very helpful in this process. Our permit was scheduled for a hearing with the Planning Commission. If they approved it, it only had to go to the Village Board. If one person of the four wanted to have a public hearing, it would take another 30 days to give the public notice of the hearing. The village staff person met with us a week prior to meeting. He reviewed the application, anticipated any questions or concerns and then presented our request with his recommendation. Here is the video from the meeting of our 5 minutes 

Now the permit could move forward to Village Board the following week. The approval came quickly, one and half minutes. Click to view.

Our last major date is the closing of the sale of the building by the Village of Menomonee Falls to Coakley and Co. That is expected the first week of December. More in a few weeks…

View a recent news article on the club’s facility here.

About the Author

Jenny Hahn is the Executive Director of the Junior Volleyball Association. She is also co-founder of Milwaukee Sting VBC and is currently on the club’s Board of Directors.

For related articles on opening and operating a volleyball facility click here.