Dredging for dollars

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

Business improvement districts are usually formed by companies that want to improve their commercial neighborhoods.
By forming a BID, the businesses are given taxing powers, and the proceeds are used to pay for neighborhood improvements, such as decorative flower plantings, new street signs, park benches and other exterior enhancements of the business area.
However, a group of businesses on Milwaukee’s near south side formed a new BID, approved by city officials in December, to help fund the dredging and cleanup of the Kinnickinnic River, which abuts all of their properties.
Plans are still being developed for the potential remediation project, but officials say it calls for the river to be dredged between 20 and 24 feet down its middle, tapering to about 11 feet on the river’s banks.
If the river is cleaned up, the value of the properties along the river could increase and may attract new development.
The KK River BID, located between the Becher Street and Kinnickinnic Avenue bridges, is unique in the city in that it is the only one dedicated to an environmental remediation project, said David Ferron, president of the BID and operations manager with Paul Davis Restoration and Remodeling, which has property abutting the river.
"It’s the only one like this – to improve our back yard," Ferron said.
The BID needs to find out from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) if it qualifies for grant money. The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimates the dredging project could cost $8 million to $12 million.
An EPA grant could pay for a large portion of the costs for the dredging and cleanup, but the work would likely require some local cost-sharing. The BID would help pay for the cost to stabilize the shoreline after the dredging is complete.
The BID was formed after one of its members, Pier Milwaukee president and general manager Chris Svoboda, learned that the DNR had applied for federal funds through the EPA’s Great Lakes Legacy Fund. The fund provides federal money to clean up waterways in areas along the Great Lakes.
"I was just involved with several of the other small businesses here, kicking around with ways to improve this area from a river standpoint," Svoboda said. "I caught wind that the DNR had been on the river that summer and fall taking sediment samples, and that they were interested in applying for federal funds to remediate the contaminants."
The DNR’s application was finished in March 2004.
"This project will help improve water quality and the navigation condition in the area, because contaminated sediments will be removed, and the river will be deepened," said Xiaochun Zhang, water resource engineer and modeler with the DNR who has been handling much of the research and grant application to the EPA.
The EPA’s Legacy Fund would provide 65 percent of the funds for the cleanup, Svoboda said. The DNR says the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewage District has pledged up to $4.47 million, which would fulfill the federal requirement for 35 percent of the funding to come from local sources.
The BID would then be charged with paying for improvements to the shoreline, which would be needed during the dredging project, so soil on the banks of the river would not wash away into the river’s bed.
The BID has also created a nonprofit agency called the Kinnickinnic River Revitalization Association to collect funds from its members.
Svoboda said the members of the BID realize any cleanup would have a benefit to their property values, but their motivation to help pay for the project is for more than just potential future economic gain.
"There will be a benefit to private property owners, but there’s a lot to say for what a non-contaminated river will provide for the community," Svoboda said. "We want to clean the water itself, so people can swim and fish safely. There’s all sorts of up sides to it."
While members of the BID are quick to give Svoboda credit for helping to get them together and involved in the potential project, he said nothing would have happened if the DNR hadn’t started the grant application process.
"The DNR picked the ball up and ran with it," Svoboda said. "I just happened to walk in at the right time and said, ‘Let’s roll with it.’"
Svoboda acknowledged that the project will benefit his property, but said he is hoping to keep his business there. Pier Milwaukee is one of several businesses in the area that handles private boat storage, upgrades and repairs.
"I like what I’m doing, and I don’t know the first thing about development," Svoboda said. "But if we could pull this off and were granted some federal funds, it would serve as a vehicle for others take notice of the area. It’s been neglected, and it’s one of Milwaukee’s better kept secrets."
Matt Pelkofer, a member of the Kinnickinnic River Revitalization Association, said BID members believe the project would add value to the existing properties and attract future redevelopment.
The area’s close proximity to both Walker’s Point and Bay View, areas that have seen much redevelopment in recent years, indicates the BID could become one of the next hot neighborhoods for condominium development in Milwaukee, Pelkofer said.
"With all the people I’ve talked to, they have the same impression," Pelkofer said. "They like it here, and they want to see it dredged."
Kevin Connell, plant manager for Commercial Heat Treating Inc., 1952 S. 1st St., compared the Kinnickinnic River area of the south side BID to sections of the Milwaukee River shoreline that have had condominium developments within the past 10 years.
"I think that river property is the new big thing, and I think that this could be a very vibrant area," Connell said. "The movement seems to be going south from Walker’s Point."
The dredging also will likely bring back fishermen and recreational boaters, Connell said.
"Any time you can bring more people into an area, you will improve the area," he said.

March 18, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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