Huge Project for 27th and Wisconsin?
Near West Side Partners buying entire block, hypes development, wants free city land.
The non-profit Near West Side Partners is prepared to pay millions to assemble and prepare an entire city block at the southwest corner of N. 27th St. and W. Wisconsin Ave. for a major development, but they want to pay the city only $1 for their portion of the block. That’s not sitting well with area alderman Robert Bauman.
Since mid-September, the group has invested over $900,000 in acquiring 13 of the 17 sites on the block bounded by W. Wisconsin Ave., N. 27th St., W. Michigan St. and N. 28th St. In addition, they received one property via donation from the Marcus Corp., have another under contract and are proposing to buy the remaining two parcels from the city for $1.
Bauman told the committee that the group is proposing to attract a replacement for the state office building at N. 6th St. and W. Wells St. or a new facility for the Medical College of Wisconsin. The state and medical college are both expected to release requests for proposals this year.
The alderman introduced an amendment that would raise the sale price from $1 to $83,200. The figure comes from the assessed value of the land for the two city-owned properties, 2719 W. Wisconsin Ave. and 625 N. 27th St. The city has owned one as a parking lot since the 1960s and acquired the building on W. Wisconsin Ave. in property tax foreclosure. Approximately $40,000 would be placed into the city’s STRONG home loan program as part of the sale.
“Most of the parcels acquired to date were acquired for real money,” said Bauman.
According to Bauman the group has agreed to pay over $600,000 for a 3,480 square-foot building at 2701-2703 W. Wisconsin Ave. that is assessed at $121,000. The building, which houses Lucky Supermarket, a convenience store, will be demolished along with the remaining buildings on the block.
Near West Side Partners board member and former alderman Willie Wade said the group is prepared to spend $2.5 million on demolishing buildings and remediating environmental issues.
Bauman characterized them as some of the wealthiest companies in town. “So again, why are the taxpayers chopped liver here?” Bauman asked.
“What started as a discussion about a Medical College of Wisconsin, could in four or five years end up as a strip mall if the deal falls through,” said Bauman.
Bauman told the committee that if all goes according to plan, the group will sell the assembled property as one large deal for a profit.
Marcoux, whose office negotiated the deal, said: “This is how you do development and you do it right.” But when asked by Ald. Nik Kovac if the city had executed any other land sales for $1 where there wasn’t a proposed plan, Marcoux said he could not come up with any examples. Later in the meeting, the council approved a land sale on N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. for $40,000 for a $2 million medical building with apartments above.
Stanley told the committee about the successes of his organization: “Our model is promoting assets, reducing crime. We have achieved a double-digit decrease in crime.” The group runs an annual business competition that has attracted new businesses to the area. They’ve also purchased three of the most problematic parcels in the area, which has reduced the need for police service, according to Stanley.
Stanley said the proposal affords area residents a chance at new jobs being brought to the area, while existing businesses would see a wave of new customers. Bauman has expressed concern that the state office building could bring with it things that could destabilize the neighborhood, including a parole office.
The Near West Side Partners executive board has not discussed Bauman’s $83,000 sale price. They’ve previously rejected the idea of a purchase option for the site, given that they want to demolish the buildings on the site as part of their proposal. Stanley said demolition is also desired by board member Rick Wiegand, who is buying and converting the Wisconsin Avenue School across W. Wisconsin Ave. into the Ambassador Suites hotel. Wiegand owns a number of buildings nearby.
The debate went back-and-forth for over an hour between Marcoux, Stanley, Wade, Bauman and the committee before committee chair Ald. Jim Bohl closed the discussion. Kovac moved to introduce Bauman’s amendment and approve the sale.
Stanley will now take the increased sale price back to his board in advance of the Common Council’s next scheduled meeting on February 6th. Should an adjustment be needed, the council could further amend the deal on the council floor or send it back to committee.
Don’t expect the debate to drag on for months. Both Stanley and Wade indicated that the organization would like to move quickly.
This isn’t the first time the corner of N. 27th St. and W. Wisconsin Ave. has become a source of debate. After a series of contentious committee meetings, the southeast corner was redeveloped into a state office building five years ago that Bauman calls “‘a horrible development.” Yes, he went on, “it is taxable, we’re getting a little tax revenue from it and I guess that’s a positive. In terms of neighborhood revitalization, we’re getting zero from it.”
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