Apply For Grant

Stay Connected

Opportunity Center receives $5M grant from Bader, names David Cooks as CEO

September 21, 2022
Downloadable Resources
View Article

David Cooks, who has been in a wheelchair for 43 years, smiled describing how a new athletic center he’s working to develop in Milwaukee would have a single ramp for all visitors to pass between floors, not separate paths for those who can walk and those who cannot.

“People aren’t going to be separated and segregated because it may take them longer to get there than someone else; they are all going to walk that ramp together,” Cooks said. “I smile when I think about that. I understand what it means to go through the back door of the kitchen in order to get to the place you’re going to.”

The Opportunity Center development valued at $80 million to $100 million was unveiled last year. New details were announced Wednesday in conjunction with a $5 million grant from Bader Philanthropies and additional funding through the Daniel M. Soref Charitable Trust. The athletic facility is intended to make sports and other wellness programming available to people of all physical abilities and income levels, said Cooks, who was serving as its board chair and was announced Wednesday as its president and CEO.

The about 300,000-square-foot building is planned for 22 acres at 4206 N. Green Bay Ave.

“It’s really significant that its going right there in the heart of the city,” Cooks said. “I grew up off 24th and Hampton. I know the area. I know the lack of investment in that area and what this can do for that community.”

Cooks said the intent is to build and open the new facility within three to five years. The project is a collaboration between Damian Buchman, founder of The Ability Center in Wauwatosa, and Franklin Cumberbatch, who is also vice president for engagement at Bader Philanthropies.

Bader Philanthropies committed $5 million over five years to the development, and Cooks said other organizations have made six-figure commitments, including the Daniel M. Soref Charitable Trust.

Cooks has a history in the Milwaukee financial, education and sports world. He has used a wheelchair since age 15 when, as a high school basketball player in Milwaukee, he experienced a spinal aneurysm. Cooks has worked as a commercial lender with Marshall & Ilsley in Milwaukee, served as a coach under Mike Krzyzewski while gaining an MBA in finance from Duke University in the early 1990s, and was a teacher and coach at Marquette High School for 17 years ending in 2016.

Cooks related his current efforts to his work at M&I in Milwaukee.

“This takes me back to that, having to understand the business side of what we’re having to do, but also having to understand the social impact that a project of this magnitude can have, which falls in line with my own purpose of trying to make other people’s lives better,” he said.

The Opportunity Center is designed to be universally accessible to people of all physical abilities, and would have areas for community programing including education, mentorship, and other activities such as chess. New renderings of the facility were also released Wednesday.