It’s been getting harder and harder to find outdoor family fun like mini golf and batting cages and this week it’s become even more difficult, as the River Falls Family Fun Center, 5401 W. Layton Ave., in Greenfield announced on Facebook that it’s closing.
The land just west of Konkel Park is now the site of a proposal by Ogden & Co. for a 257-apartment complex. A couple years ago, another developer hoped to erect a 100-unit complex there but that project failed to materialize.
According to a comment on Facebook from one of River Falls' owners, Lawrence Klezcka, whose wife is battling cancer, "I am no longer in a position to be as 'hands on' as in prior years. Another owner has had a health scare this year and everyone in the retirement age.
"We surely appreciated all of the support from everyone in prior years. My sincere personal thanks to everyone who understands our decision in this regard. We wish everyone well."
Greenfield Mayor Michael Neitzke told the Journal Sentinel, “It’s been a part of our community for decades. I think that many people in the community may have strong feelings with the thought of replacing it with apartments. Certainly those feelings are enhanced further with the great improvements to Konkel Park next door."
But, interestingly, the construction of the amusement park was controversial when it was announced in 1994.
When Franklin-based developer Loretta Kleczka – Lawrence's mother – took her plan for the mini-golf, arcade and go-kart business to the city, the City Park and Recreation Committee, the Tree Committee and the School Board all refused to support the plan, which required a special-use permit for the track.
Some said its location near Greenfield High School and Edgewood Elementary School would, “promote truancy and vandalism” at the nearby schools.
Kleczka mounted a media campaign to get her side of the story out and, soon after, altered the plan to remove the go-karts and arcade, leaving mini golf and batting cages on the 5.7-acre site.
That meant she no longer needed a special permit, and within a couple months the Greenfield Common Council approved the half-million-dollar plan, which Kleczka described to a newspaper reporter as, “something that is family-oriented. It is a place where everybody can have fun."
The River Falls Recreation Center opened on June 23, 1995 and over the years, Kleczka proved right. Greenfield came to embrace its local outdoor fun zone.
In fact, Greenfield Parks and Recreation Department came to use the River Falls – for free, thanks to Kleczka’s generosity – for one its biggest yearly fundraisers.
Though Loretta Kleczka passed away in 2016, her family continued to own River Falls.
We’ll miss having River Falls Family Fun Center around, especially the batting cages, which is a beloved activity in my house.
Whether or not the proposed $59 million Project Verde will materialize and become as beloved remains to be seen.
But, like the amusement center, the apartment complex will require zoning changes and that will mean convincing city officials. That process continues next week when the plan goes to the Greenfield Plan Commission.
"I suspect the public will not hold back its thoughts on the proposed change," Neitzke told the Journal Sentinel.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.