Abele seeks increase in legal funds for Downtown Transit Center dispute

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele recently submitted a request to the County Board for an additional $50,000 in funding for outside legal counsel to assist with efforts to establish development rights for the Downtown Transit Center property.

The Downtown Transit Center is a bus storage and transfer facility located southwest of Lincoln Memorial Drive and Michigan Street near the lakefront in downtown Milwaukee. County officials plan to sell the property to developer Rick Barrett, who plans to build the Couture, a 44-story tower with apartments, a hotel and retail space.

However, parks advocacy group Preserve Our Parks has objected to the development plans saying most of the Downtown Transit Center site was originally in the Lake Michigan lakebed and therefore the state’s public trust doctrine forbids private development of the site.

Last year the County Board approved $140,000 for legal services to be provided by Milwaukee law firm Reinhart Boerner Van Deuren to clear up the public trust doctrine issue for the property.

Last year the state Legislature inserted a provision in the state budget establishing the location of the shoreline to the east of the Downtown Transit Center site, so that it is not subject to the public trust doctrine. But that has not resolved the matter. Preserve Our Parks says the legislation is unconstitutional and says it plans to file a lawsuit if the county moves forward with plans to sell the site to Barrett for a private development project.
Milwaukee County has been unable to obtain a title insurance policy for the Downtown Transit Center. The threat of legal action has discouraged title insurance companies from issuing a title insurance policy for the site, Barrett said.

County Supervisors Patricia Jursik and Gerry Broderick have sponsored a resolution, submitted Tuesday, to direct the county’s legal counsel to work with outside counsel to file an action of declaration rights to “obtain a judgement determining the extent of the county’s title and rights to the Downtown Transit Center property… Such legal certainty can only be attained by a final court judgement.”

They want the legal action to be taken by March 15.

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