Milwaukee County and Bucks to announce completion of Park East land sale

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:14 pm

Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Milwaukee Bucks president Peter Feigin, at a press conference scheduled for 2 p.m. today, will announce the approval of the sale of about 10 acres of land in the Park East corridor in downtown Milwaukee, that is being sold by the county to the Bucks ownership group for $1.

The Park East land is a major portion of a mixed-use $500 million arena district that the Bucks owners plan to build around the new $500 million downtown arena. The current and former Bucks owners are paying for half of the cost of the new arena and the other half of the cost would be paid for by a combination of state, city, county and Wisconsin Center District funds. The state has approved the public funding plan for the arena and the only remaining approval step is the Milwaukee Common Council, which is expected to vote on the plan on Sept. 22.

The Bucks owners consider the ancillary development that they want to build around the arena a vital part of their plans, and the acquisition of the Park East land from the county is a major step in that project. Over the next nine years, the Park East property will be developed into a $400 million mixed use development project that is expected to create more than 3,700 jobs, including 1,000 permanent jobs, with an emphasis on hiring county residents and disadvantaged business entities, according to a media advisory from Abele’s office.

The development of the Park East land will occur in three phases that will ultimately include a new NBA practice facility, 160,000 square feet in new office space, nearly 100,000 square feet in retail space, 395 market rate residential apartments, and a public plaza, according to the plans submitted by the Bucks ownership group.

“I’m thrilled to finalize the Park East sale so we can get to work transforming an empty, unused space into a vibrant development that will serve as an economic engine of Milwaukee County for years to come and keep the Bucks right here in Milwaukee,” Abele said. “This deal is proof that good things happen when we all work together for the benefit of Milwaukee County.”

As part of the sale, land bordered by McKinley Avenue on the north, Old World Third Street on the east, Juneau Avenue on the south, and Winnebago Street on the west, will be sold to Head of the Herd LLC, a development group associated with the Milwaukee Bucks.

This portion of the Park East corridor has been vacant since the removal of the Park East freeway was completed in 2002. Last year county officials issued a new request for proposals for the vacant Park East land west of the Milwaukee River. The county received two responses to that RFP, including the Bucks proposal, and both offered only $1.

The land being sold by the county to the Bucks owners has an appraised value of $8.8 million, but it is hamstrung by underground issues, including a storm sewer that needs to be relocated and concrete footings from the former Park East freeway that would need to be removed. It would cost about $8.3 million to rectify those underground issues, according the county.

The Bucks owners have offered to buy the site “as is” and accept all risk related to other unknown property costs, including environmental remediation costs, according to the county.

The sale of the county’s Park East land is not subject to County Board approval. Under a provision in the new state budget, Abele only needs to gain support of either Milwaukee County Comptroller Scott Manske or a private citizen selected by the Intergovernmental Cooperation Council (a committee of the mayors and village presidents of the 19 municipalities of Milwaukee County) to approve the land sale to the Bucks owners (or to approve any sale of county land, other than parks).

The Milwaukee County Economic Development Division worked with the County Comptroller’s office to finalize the proposal, Abele’s media advisory says.

Milwaukee County Board Chairman Theo Lipscomb complained that the $1 sale price for the Park East land is too low.

“Today we all celebrate that the Bucks are staying in Milwaukee, but tomorrow and for the next 20 years taxpayers must pay the tab Chris Abele ran up,” Lipscomb said. “The Bucks recently paid above market value in private (downtown land) transactions, but when it comes to land owned by taxpayers, Chris Abele chose not to hold them to the same standard.”

Milwaukee County Board Supervisor Steve F. Taylor today said that the process for selling the Park East land to the Bucks ownership group for $1 lacked transparency, but he said he was happy it would lead the Bucks to stay in Milwaukee.

“This is not about Milwaukee County selling the Park East for $1, this is about Chris Abele selling the Park East for $1,” said Taylor, chairman of the Economic and Community Development Committee. “The county executive and his administration managed to freeze the board out of a vote on this proposal, which means a thorough public discussion did not take place, except through a public hearing held by the board. There are certainly questions about transparency surrounding this sale on the county executive’s part. The county executive agreed to this sale without holding a public hearing or without a public vetting.”

Taylor called the sale a “momentous development,” but he said he hoped the taxpayers would see a return on the sale.

“As chairman of the Economic and Community Development Committee, naturally I want to see economic enhancements to the county,” Taylor said. “But we won’t know for almost a decade whether this particular sale was the right thing to do. I’m happy the Bucks will stay, but I want the best deal for taxpayers and I don’t know whether this is it. A public vetting of the proposal would have helped the public to know whether this was a good deal.”

Taylor also questioned how future land sales would be handled since the County Board has been cut out of the process.

“I hope the county executive will be more open to public comment the next time he decides to sell county land,” Taylor said.

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Andrew is the editor of BizTimes Milwaukee. He joined BizTimes in 2003, serving as managing editor and real estate reporter for 11 years. A University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate, he is a lifelong resident of the state. He lives in Muskego with his wife, Seng, their son, Zach, and their dog, Hokey. He is an avid sports fan and is a member of the Muskego Athletic Association board of directors.

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