The new pavilion at Croatian Park in Franklin will have seating, a bar and a stage. Local Catholic families and businesses have been instrumental in raising $2.3 for the renovation project. (Rendering courtesy of Barrientos Design and Consulting)

The local Croatian community has made a significant impact on the suburbs south of Milwaukee, and now they are asking for help to renovate their namesake park, just as Franklin is set to expand.

Located at 9100 S. 76th St. in Franklin, the Croatian Park has been the pride of the local Croatian immigrant community for the past six decades. It was built in 1956 and has served as the heart of recreation for the community, where it regularly hosts youth soccer tournaments, beer gardens, wedding receptions, picnics and public events.

For the past several months, the nonprofit Federation of Croatian Societies has been raising money to renovate and upgrade the park, to address decades of wear and tear afflicting the existing facilities and to build new ones. The federation has been working with local businesses and fundraising organizations to raise $2.3 million to help with this expansion, which it says will go towards renovating the aging park and building new facilities for local events.

“(We have a) need for larger and more usable facilities — larger covered pavilion space, full kitchen and kitchen prep areas, a musical stage tied into the covered bar area, more and closer restrooms. Thus, our fundraising efforts focus on the construction of a new, 6,000-square-foot, three-season pavilion. This new pavilion will have a large bar, musical stage and space for 299 guests. New restrooms, with a patio deck, will abut the south end of the pavilion. At the north end, a new building will house a kitchen prep room, dressing room, office, new walk-in cooler and storage area,” said federation member Paul Lucas.

Local Catholic families and businesses have been vital to the fundraising campaign since it began. Many of the early donations came from Catholics with connections to families in the community. The majority of Croatian immigrants who settled in Franklin over the past century brought their deeply held Catholic faith with them to America and integrated to become American citizens. Even as their descendants have had to go back and learn about their heritage, their faith has remained a vital part of their community, with multiple sizable parishes meeting the needs of their community.

Mark Sabljak is a partner at Sabljak & Budisch, a Milwaukee-based nonprofit consultant firm, and has been working with the Croatian federation on its fundraising efforts. He is also the grandson of Croatian immigrants. He says that general awareness of the Croatian Park outside of Franklin is very low, despite the growing community, soccer programs and popular weekly beer garden during the summer. He wants to get the word out about the federation’s fundraising efforts, which come at an important moment for the growth of Franklin as a city.

“Almost every dollar raised so far, nearly $2 million, has been from the Croatian community or from local Catholic businesses and organizations with a relationship to the park. The new buildings will create opportunities for additional events, including music and dancing,” said Sabljak. “My paternal grandparents immigrated from the country decades ago. They became Americans when they got here. It’s been a slow crawl back to their roots, which have been not unlike my generation’s learning about their heritage and home country.”

The renovation of the park couldn’t come at a better time. In October, the Franklin Plan Commission announced that lip-balm producer Carmex is going to be building a new headquarters for Carma Laboratories Inc. — a new 225,000-square-foot facility that is expected to increase local property values by $80 million and bring hundreds of new workers and jobs to the community. The new facility is planning to be built just south of the Croatian Park.

“The local Franklin neighborhood is growing,” says Sabljak. “It’s going to become a very popular area in the near future. The Carma owner met with the federation and my team a couple of months ago and stopped by Thursday nights for the beer garden. They’re not Croatian, but there isn’t much here in terms of food or retail in that area. Carma moving in will help populate the area with hundreds of employees. We’ve had early conversations about the environment and making both properties friendly to the environment. This massive new building and complex are going to build up the area.”

Those looking to learn more about the Croatian Park or to donate can visit