A blight tax could spark economic development in Milwaukee

    The other day, at Spreenkler, while waiting for Mayor Tom Barrett to show up, I was talking with the owners of Transfer Pizzeria in their new location Via Downer and we stumbled upon an idea that would do more for revolutionizing business district revitalization in most cities than any government program, and unlike other government programs it would raise money for the government rather than spend it.

    The idea is simple. If a commercial building appears to be vacant, anyone can report it by taking a picture and submitting it to the city website. The landlord gets a notice to within 90 days produce proof that the building is occupied or have the building become subject to the blight property tax that triples the rate of the regular real estate taxes.

    The net result? Landlord has every incentive to develop, sell or lease out their property rather than sit on it. They cannot any longer sit on their hands waiting for a government grant, or for someone else to develop a nearby property, while their property destroys the value of the neighborhood. They now have an incentive to enter in to short term leases, just so the building is occupied, which encourages

    Just think what would happen to the number of new businesses in the city if any empty building could be rented for very close to the cost of utilities.

    The interesting part is that the landlords also win. The responsible landlord can now invest in their property with confidence, knowing that their neighbors have to do the same thing. They actually stand to make more money if the citywide business activity expands and occupancy rates are very close to 100 percent.

    The city wins in a couple of crucial ways: It gets an additional tax stream that can be used for street improvement. It eliminates the abandoned buildings and the problems they bring to the
    neighborhood. It fosters business activity, especially new business starts. It will create a huge incentive to donate empty buildings to nonprofits.

    The best part about this piece of legislation is that it can be a local ordinance, and any village or a
    city can pass it relatively easily. What do we have to lose? Is there at least one place in Wisconsin willing to try it? What are your thoughts?

    Oleg Tumarkin is president, founder and business coach at Futureworks, a Nekes Corp., in Menomonee Falls and is an adjuct professor of business at Lakeland College.

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