Renner Wanted to Buy O’Donnell Garage
Walker emails show Renner was a donor who contacted the 2010 gubernatorial campaign about buying and redeveloping the O'Donnell Parking Garage.
In June 2010 a massive decorative concrete panel fell off the O’Donnell Park Garage. The tragic disaster killed 15-year-old Jared Kellner and hurt two others, and also caused a huge problem for Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, who wanted to avoid any blame and any disruption to his campaign for governor. In the midst of all this hubbub developer Peter Renner approached members of Walker’s team about the possibility of buying the structure, apparently at a Walker for Governor fundraiser. This revelation was found buried deep within the 27,000 emails that were recently released as part of the first John Doe investigation that netted six convictions of people connected to the Walker campaign.
Walker looked vulnerable on the parking garage’s failure, since deferring maintenance of county facilities was nothing new under his tight-budgeted leadership, and the media and politicos were swarming all over the issue. But, in the end it came out that the contractor, Advance Cast Stone., had failed to use the approved installation design, which according to the jury in the family’s lawsuit for wrongful death, was the most to blame. Bruce Vielmetti and Steve Schultze, of the Journal Sentinel, reported that, “The jury found the bulk of the blame — 88% — fell on Advance Cast Stone. Findorff was found to be 10% at fault and the county 2%.”
Meanwhile, emails show, Renner apparently approached Dan Morse, who was working as a fundraiser for Walker at the time, about the possibility of purchasing the structure. Morse emailed Keith Gilkes, who was running Walker’s campaign at the time, who in turned emailed Kelly Rindfleisch, who was working for the Brett Davis campaign and was a Deputy Chief of Staff for Walker, regarding the contact. Renner wanted to “develop/buy” the parking structure, Gilkes wrote in an email, but he thought the property couldn’t be sold, because it was deeded to the county by the state “with a deed restriction that does not allow the land to be sold to a private entity.”
Rindfleish responded that, “one of things we will be looking at is selling the property and putting the funds in a trust for the parks to draw on,” but went on to stress that “It would be something that would go to RFP so him approaching scott would be extremely unadvisable so if this were to go forward it would be a clean process.” As she wrote earlier in her email, “My advice is to say that all the options need to be considered and we are far from making any decision…”
Whether any direct talks with Walker occurred and what Renner’s plans were for the garage are unknown at press time. Renner did not get back to a request for comment.
A potential private sector suitor for the property is still on the table. In December 2012, Sean Ryan of the Business Journal reported that Northwestern Mutual was in talks with Milwaukee County about the possible acquisition of the O’Donnell Park Structure. NML is looking to add additional parking to support its $450 million 32-story headquarters tower project that is underway in downtown Milwaukee.