Common Council delays downtown streetcar vote

Opponents of the proposed downtown Milwaukee streetcar used a parliamentary procedure maneuver this morning to delay a vote on the $123.9 million project.

Needing only three votes to hold the matter until the next Common Council meeting, aldermen voted 5-9 to delay a vote on the issue. The aldermen who voted to delay the matter were: Joe Davis Sr., James Bohl Jr., Robert Donovan, Joe Dudzik and Tony Zielinski. Alderman also voted to delay proposals to provide tax incremental financing for the streetcar project.

“I just think the way this was brought to the council at the last minute, in my opinion, with changes in the financing, it should be held to allow us more time to discuss the issue with our colleagues and our constituents,” Dudzik said.

The vote to delay vote, means the Common Council will instead vote on the streetcar proposal at its Jan. 21 meeting.

Today’s vote to delay the matter could be an indication that a majority of the Common Council plans to vote for the project next month. The aldermen who opposed the delay were: Ashanti Hamilton, Nik Kovac, Robert Bauman, Milele Coggs, Willie Wade, Michael Murphy, Jose Perez, Terry Witkowski and Russell Stamper II. Ald. Robert Puente was not present for today’s the meeting. Bauman, Kovac, Wade and Hamilton are the sponsors of the streetcar resolution.

Coggs said she has received “probably over 100 emails” in support of the streetcar.

“Just because we have work to do (as a city) doesn’t mean we should miss opportunities for growth,” she said.

If approved, construction for the streetcar could begin in 2015 and it could be operational in 2018.

The initial streetcar route would run from the Intermodal Station, at 433 W. St. Paul Ave., northeast through the Historic Third Ward, downtown and ending at Ogden and Farwell avenues on the Lower East Side. The initial route plans also includes a spur to the proposed Couture project at the lakefront.

However, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has made it no secret that he wants to extend the streetcar route further, in several directions, to extend it into other neighborhoods near downtown.

“I want to get this thing in the ground and I want to expand it,” Barrett said Sunday on the UpFront with Mike Gousha show on WISN-TV Channel 12, a media partner of BizTimes Milwaukee. “I want to expand it down through the Third Ward, the Fifth Ward, to the airport. I want it to go up to Bronzeville. I want it to go to UWM. I want it to go out west past Marquette. And there are federal dollars that are available for this. It’s going to take a local match, be we’ve seen other cities that have been very proactive and very aggressive and what they’ve been rewarded with is dynamic metropolitan areas with a lot of young people. That’s what I want for southeastern Wisconsin.”

The cost to build the streetcar system would be paid for with $64.9 million in federal funds and $59 million from tax incremental financing districts. The total $123.9 million costs includes an estimated $22.7 million in utility relocation costs, which must be borne by the city.

Supporters of the streetcar project said it would spur economic development attracting businesses and residents, especially members of the millennial generation, along the route.

“I’m betting on the future,” Barrett said. “Young people are attracted to cities with transportation like this. That means talent and that does mean more jobs. So, I’m betting on the young people.”

Opponents of the controversial project say the streetcar is a waste of taxpayer money in a city with greater needs, and will attract few riders.

“I just don’t see that this particular project will (address) any of those areas (where Milwaukee needs to improve),” Dudzik said.

Several business organizations and business leaders in the community have thrown their support behind the streetcar project. Philanthropist Michael Cudahy; Jeffrey Joerres, executive chairman of ManpowerGroup; David Lubar, president and CEO of Lubar & Co.; Alex Molinaroli, CEO of Johnson Controls; Gary Grunau, developer of Schlitz Park; Greg Marcus, president and CEO of Marcus Corp.; Barry Mandel, president of Mandel Group Inc.; and others signed a letter, which appeared as a full page add this week in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in support of proposed downtown investments including the streetcar and a new arena.

Representatives for the Downtown Milwaukee Business Improvement District, the King Drive Business Improvement District, the African American Chamber of Commerce of Greater Milwaukee, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin, Creative Alliance Milwaukee, Bartolotta Restaurants and the Hilton Garden Inn hotel in downtown Milwaukee, have all expressed support of the streetcar project recently.

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