Urban Milwaukee
Eyes on Milwaukee

Surprise Compromise on Preservation Law

Opposing sides agree on preservation ordinance changes. But is consensus possible on a combined arena and transit tax?

By - Dec 19th, 2012 09:43 am
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Milwaukee Marriott Downtown

Milwaukee Marriott Downtown

Earlier this year Ald. Terry Witkowski proposed to amend a longstanding Milwaukee ordinance with changes that were seen as an attack on historic preservation.  This was the direct result of  the heated debate over the East Town Marriott Hotel project, where some believed the preservation ordinances had slowed its development (though the deal was actually approved rather quickly), while others argued preservation regulations play a vital role in economic development.

But many months later came a surprise: Ald. Witkowski helped pass, with Ald. Bob Bauman’s help, an updated ordinance that received support from multiple preservation organizations in town. Last week’s hearing at the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) was quite an eye opener as everyone, including commissioners, preservation groups, and the two alderman who were on opposites sides of the issue were supportive of the changes.  Dawn McCarthy, representing the Milwaukee Preservation Alliance, was ebullient. “I appreciate the willingness of Ald. Witkowski to go back to the drawing board on this,” she said.  The updated ordinance has certainly come a long way.

And so, at yesterday’s Common Council meeting the new ordinance was approved. The run-down of changes was included in a press release put out by the sponsors, but I’ve listed the key changes to show how each side gained something:

  • Provides the Department of Neighborhood Services with enforcement powers to prevent “demolition by neglect.”  This is a key win for the preservation community, as far too many owners in Milwaukee slowly let their buildings crumble and then claim hardship so our history to be demolished.
  • Requires that developers seeking to demolish a historic structure and develop a new building in its place prove they have the financial resources to do so. Another key win for the preservation community. Often a historic building is demolished for new development, the financing never materializes, and all that’s left is an empty lot. An unfortunate example of this is starkly apparent at the corner of Broadway and Ogden Ave.
  • Creates time frames (i.e., a maximum number of days) for various actions to occur and decisions to be made. A win for the development community, as it should bring a level of certainty and timeliness to the process.
  • HPC staff shall also notify a Certificate of Appropriateness applicant of HPC’s decision on the CoA application within 15 days of that decision. Another win for the development community, as it insures timeliness within the process.
  • Provides more details on the procedures for appealing an HPC decision-deferral action to the Common Council. The handling of appeals has been murky at best in the past so the clarification of any details must be seen as a positive for both developers and the preservation community as it allows for more understanding of the process. – Dave Reid

Do You Support a Tax for Transit & NBA Arena?

Expect a discussion about a replacement arena for the Bradley Center to be on the forefront of public issues in the coming year. The Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce (MMAC) appears ready to push the issue in the form of a new sales tax. MMAC president Tim Sheehy has been touting the Oklahoma City model, where a 1 percent (one cent) sales tax was used to fund nine different capital projects, including an arena. The sales tax concept has since been extended twice by voters, the latest of which will fund a starter streetcar system.

If Milwaukee is to follow an Oklahoma City model, could the solution to Milwaukee County’s crisis-level transit funding issue be solved by a multi-item sales tax? It seems like a wise path to follow: voters in Milwaukee County already approved a somewhat similar advisory referendum on a sales tax for transit, parks, emergency medical service and property tax relief in 2008. The Oklahoma City model has been for capital projects with fixed sunset dates, but Milwaukee could use a hybrid with the capital portion expiring, and the operating support (and what should be property tax relief) continuing on. Combining transit funding and the stadium would broaden the support base in Milwaukee County for such a tax.

What do you think? We welcome your your responses in the comments section. - Jeramey Jannene

Quick Hits

-Sean Ryan, of the Business Journal, recently reported that Northwestern Mutual is eying the O’Donnell Parking Garage as a parking solution for their recently announced new downtown office tower.  It will be interesting to see if Milwaukee County offers to sweeten the deal for Northwestern Mutual.

-A zoning change that allows work to begin on the conversion of 2597 N. Downer Ave. for the new Pizza Man restaurant was approved at the Common Council yesterday. Unless Mayor Tom Barrett isn’t a fan of pizza, we’ll soon be ordering pies on the balcony. – Dave Reid

3 thoughts on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Surprise Compromise on Preservation Law”

  1. Peter Zanghi says:

    I’m impressed with how much the MMAC and Business Journal has been able to learn through the OKC study. I’m hopeful that they will be able to tailor a proposal that people in our area will pass based on the many needs (and wants) that we have for large, capital intensive projects. When it comes down to it, no matter how much sense their recommendation makes, a lot will come down to effective promotion and how well they can make people envision what could be and how these projects will impact them in a positive way. Easier said than done, but I have faith.

  2. Jon Woida says:

    I think it is definitely worth mentioning that Sydney Hih helped play a role in this decision as well. All of these bullet points listing improvements to the ordinances are things I wish we would have had in place during the fight for Sydney Hih and even before that!

  3. Jeff Jordan says:

    I would hold my nose and vote for the right kind of deal for a new public arena that would host the Bucks, Marquette and other athletic events.
    However the devil in these deals is in the details. Revenue sharing for non-Bucks events and continued upgrading of the facility should be governed by an Arena board that considers first and foremost the benefits to our community.
    We need school buildings modernized. We need parks brought up to speed on maintenance. We need to fund mass transit, including bike trails and pedestrian walkways We need to fix our streets. All of these programs are more urgent than a basketball arean and provide more benefits for all of our citizens.
    What we really need is the right to tax ourselves to provide the services we want and need without going to Maddison with our hat’s in our hands. However if the price of all of that is a Basketball arena so be it. And that my friends is called compromise.

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