Park East politics

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:41 pm

Milwaukee’s Park East Freeway corridor is becoming a pinball alley of debate between the city and the county. Department of City Development Commissioner Richard "Rocky" Marcoux recently sent a letter to Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and County Board Chairman Lee Holloway, expressing his concern about the lack of development of county-owned property in the corridor.

Milwaukee County Supervisor Michael Mayo Sr., the chairman of the county’s Economic and Community Development Committee, and Robert Dennik, the director of Economic and Community Development for Milwaukee County, barked back their responses on Tuesday.

Mayo said Marcoux and city officials should be cooperating with county officials in working to attract development to the corridor instead of criticizing how the county is handling its property in the corridor. "We don’t tell the city how to spend their money and do their business. They don’t need to tell us how to spend our money and do our business," Mayo said. "The city needs to work and communicate properly with Milwaukee County. What’s good for Milwaukee County is good for the City of Milwaukee."

So far, no development projects are under construction on the county-owned land, which is the majority of the space that was vacated when the freeway was demolished. "I am concerned that the multi-layered process established by Milwaukee County to sell property and approve projects is contributing to delays in development," Marcoux had stated in his letter. "The procedural complexities that delay project approval appear to impede closure of the land sale and achievement of our shared development goals for this property."

City officials are moving other projects in corridor area forward, Marcoux said in his letter. The city-prompted projects include: tax incremental financing (TIF) for the redevelopment of the former Pabst brewery property located on the west end of the corridor, by Joseph Zilber; TIF funding for the redevelopment of the former Pfister & Vogel tannery at the east end of the Park East corridor by Mandel Group; TIF funding and construction of the new Manpower Inc. headquarters; and the construction of The Flatiron, a five-story building with 38 condominiums on a 10,000-square-foot lot formerly owned by the city at 1541 N. Jefferson St., by Deerfield, Ill.-based Legacy Real Estate Development LLC.

However, Mayo and Dennik pointed out that many of those projects have taken years to get going. "It should be noted that the land at the (former Pfister & Vogel site) has been vacant since 2001 and only now is development starting,” Dennik said in a letter to Marcoux. "Likewise, development of the Pabst brewery property has been in development since 2002, and only today (Tuesday) was ground broken on the project. What we need is a cooperative approach to developing the Park East lands. The development of all 60 acres of the Park East land could reach $750 million to $1 billion in new investment and hundreds of new, badly-needed jobs. I call on you to stop this counter-productive game of one-upmanship and work together with the county to benefit everyone."

The county has been selling its property in the Park East corridor piece by piece. The County Board adopted the Park East Redevelopment Compact (PERC) for reviewing developments on the county-owned land in the Park East corridor. The PERC requires developers to pay union-scale wages for construction projects on the county land. In addition, the PERC indicates that developers that hire local employees, provide job training or create green space would by more likely to be selected.

Developers have criticized the PERC, saying it will discourage development. The Milwaukee Common Council rejected a proposal similar to the PERC. County officials are working to make development in the Park East corridor occur as fast as possible and provide the greatest benefit to the community, Mayo said.
"We are working with the business community to make sure this is a win-win for Milwaukee County," Mayo said.

The county has already completed its approval process for the land between Broadway, Ogden Avenue, Lyon Street and Jefferson Street, where Chicago-based RSC & Associates plans to build a mixed-use development with residences, hotels and retail space. The county will close on the sale once RSC obtains its financing and the city approves the development plans, Mayo said.

The Park East land sale process is further complicated because the county must share its proceeds from Park East land sales with the state and federal governments, Mayo said. The state and the feds also must approve the land sales, he said.

In his letter to Walker and Holloway, Marcoux also expressed concerns that developers of the county-owned land will be seeking tax incremental financing (TIF) assistance from the city. However, Mayo said county officials are not encouraging developers to do so. "We don’t tell the developers to go to the city of Milwaukee and get a TIF," Mayo said. “They don’t mention a TIF in their proposals."

Dennik said the city should be open to providing TIF for Park East projects on county owned property.
"You essentially dismiss the idea of using TIF to help with the development of some of these land parcels," Dennik’s letter to Marcoux stated. "This is particularly troubling as you are putting up obstacles to development while criticizing the county’s lack of progress. You cite the Manpower International development as one of the city’s accomplishments but you fail to mention that Manpower received $25 million in TIF assistance. Why not also look at TIF assistance for projects in the Park East corridor?"

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