Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm
Milwaukee County Supervisor John Weishan says county officials plan to be somewhat flexible about the controversial community benefits guidelines they have imposed on the redevelopment of the former Park East Freeway corridor.
The county recently issued requests for proposals for the redevelopment of 16 acres of county-owned land in the corridor on the northern edge of downtown Milwaukee.
The developers’ proposals will be subject to the county’s Park East Redevelopment Compact (PERC), which was approved by a majority of the county board last year and withstood a veto by County Executive Scott Walker.
Walker and several local developers said the compact would hinder redevelopment of the corridor because it imposes restrictions and additional layers of governmental oversight.
However, Weishan, one of the most vocal supporters of the PERC, said many tenets of the compact are guidelines. They are elements supervisors will prefer to see within individual development proposals, Weishan said.
He said proposals that contain more of those elements will likely gain more favor from county officials than others that do not.
"We’re throwing this out there to the market, and we’re willing to work with any developer out there," Weishan said. "If there is a legitimate impediment out there, we’re willing to do what we need to do to remove that."
Weishan pointed to a PERC request that contractors and developers attempt to hire more minorities when they have open positions by sending their job postings to the county and its designated coordinating agencies, so they can encourage minority candidates who might otherwise not know about the opportunities.
"All we’re asking for is when they have a job opening and are sending out requests to employment agencies, that they would submit that same opportunity to a minority employment agency that we would pick in the future," Weishan said. "For someone who lives in the central city and doesn’t hear about the jobs, we’re trying to broaden the spectrum to make (the jobs) better known to people."
Weishan said detractors may have over-reacted to the PERC’s requests for affordable housing to be included in developments within the Park East corridor. He said the county wants to see a range of housing prices in the Park East, but its expectations are realistic.
"It’s a very open question, even when you talk to the most hardcore housing people out there," Weishan said. "It will be left open to developers. We realize that we’re not going to have Section 8 housing on the first floor (of a condo development) and a $500,000 penthouse. We’re looking for more of a mix of affordability."
For example, Weishan said, county officials might be looking for condo developments that have a mix of pricing from the $180,000’s to the $300,000 and $500,000 range.
The county also will look more favorably on proposed structures that feature "green" design principles that lower the consumption of energy, water and other natural resources, he said.
"We’re trying to develop a new class of structures for downtown that are more environmentally friendly," Weishan said. "We want developers, as they create these structures, to look at energy consumption, to look at water runoff. We’re not dictating that they put them in there, but as they are evaluated, they will get better consideration than those that didn’t."
Although county officials will be flexible about some elements of the PERC, they are not likely to flinch about the compact’s requirements that contractors doing work within the corridor pay their employees prevailing wages.
When non-union workers are paid prevailing wages, they are paid at or close to the same rates that union workers receive. Therefore, a contractor that does not use union workers will not have a cost advantage over one who uses union labor, Weishan said.
He said said the county has required prevailing wages for development in the Milwaukee County Research Park in Wauwatosa, and the stipulation has not hurt development there.
"I don’t believe that there’s any will on the board to accept (a proposal) that doesn’t pay the prevailing wage," Weishan said. "On the County Grounds, we’ve had eight structures put up in recent years. And with G.E. Healthcare coming in, we don’t see any need to change that policy."
March, 4, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI