Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Bay View Property Owners At Odds

Commercial property owners fight over the future of business improvement district.

By - Jun 6th, 2018 03:13 pm
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2600 Block of S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

2600 Block of S. Kinnickinnic Ave. Photo by Jeramey Jannene.

Milwaukee’s longest business improvement district may dissolve.

The Kinnickinnic Avenue business improvement district, known as Bay View BID #44, runs the length of S. Kinnickinnic Ave. from E. Becher St. to E. Morgan Ave. The longest such district in the city, it runs for 2.3 miles and includes 194 commercial properties.

Property owners can’t agree on the future of the district, to which the average property owner contributes $196 annually. The district levies a special assessment of at least $100 per parcel with a $1,000 maximum.

A hearing held at the City Plan Commission on June 4th triggers a 30-day window for applicants supporting dissolution to get over 50 percent of the property owners, by assessed value, to sign their petition.

The Kinnickinnic Avenue BID Boundaries. Image from the City of Milwaukee.

The Kinnickinnic Avenue BID Boundaries. Image from the City of Milwaukee.

As of Tuesday morning, the city has identified that the petitioners have signatures from 36 percent of the property owners by assessed value. It was previously at 51 percent, but a number of property owners have withdrawn their support for dissolution.

Despite their name, business improvement districts are actually made up of property owners and not businesses. They’re self-taxing entities used to fund area improvements and events. The largest such district in Milwaukee, in terms of budget, is Milwaukee Downtown BID #21, which has used its considerable budget to undertake a variety of efforts ranging from hosting the annual Downtown Dining Week, providing programming support for Sculpture Milwaukee and managing the downtown ambassador support program. A number of BIDs partner with the city on streetscaping initiatives that often include special pavement and infrastructure.

The Bay View district, the city’s 44th, was formed in 2009.

Many of the supporters of dissolving the BID have taken issue with some of the BIDs key supporters, including board chair Lee Barczak, who owns the Avalon Theater and three associated properties, board member John Toutenhoofd, who runs T-Accounts accounting service, and area alderman Tony Zielinski.

Barczak spoke in support of saving the BID, stating “one of the things that really hasn’t been paid attention to is the things that have been accomplished.” He touted efforts to plant 30 new trees, paint five murals, bring the Bay View Classic bike race to the area and create signage in the district.

Barczak said his vision is to increase the assessment up to 500%, which would allow the district to get substantially more done and overcome issues faced by their small budget. A portion of those funds would go to hiring a part-time director and event planning firm. “I’ve spent over $20,000 of my administrative employee money in getting this going,” Barczak told the commission.

The theater owner said that a number of people have removed their names from the petition because they didn’t know what they were signing.

Toutenhoofd, who serves as the BID treasurer and operates his business out of a building owned by Barczak, said the BID has been a substantial improvement over a voluntary association. “Previous to the BID there was a business association that had been in existence for many years, but it became about five people that got together to have coffee and that was about it. They couldn’t develop enough money to have a program beyond that,” he told the commission. Toutenhoofd was formerly a partner at Quigly Tax Service in a building he co-owned at 2991-2993 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

Gary Guetzlaff doesn’t think increasing the assessment would be positive. He says it would force him to raise rents on his tenants. “That’s just how the government solves problems, put a permanent suck of wages on there and not have it results-oriented at all,” the property owner said.

Citing an article in the Bay View Compass that says Zielinski is pressuring individuals into removing their names, Guetzlaff stated: “Our alderman is working against us, that’s not personal, it’s written.” Zielinski told the Compass he would support the majority opinion on the matter, but declined to discuss the matter further.

When asked about the value of BID’s by Urban Milwaukee, Zielinski said, “Business improvement districts can access city dollars for various improvements on the street that otherwise would not be available to that business strip.”

Guetzlaff’s wife Joyce Parker isn’t happy with the streetscaping efforts. “I had one flower basket. It was beautiful, but I could have that and more with my own money,” she told the commission.

Parker and Guetzlaff own three properties in the BID, 2674-2682 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., 2681 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. and 2685-2687 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

The final person to testify in support of dissolving the BID, David Brazeau, doesn’t feel that the BID has a substantial role in many of the high profile activities going on. “We have the Bay View Bash, the BID is not involved in that. Bay View Gallery Night, the BID is not involved in that.” Brazeau owns the property at 3128-3130 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.

He went on to take issue with the controversial Bay View Art Stop bus shelter. “This bus stop is the joke of Bay View… They can’t replace an E that has been missing off the bus stop for over a year.”

Barczak defended the Art Stop in his remarks. “We made some improvements to that and tried to ensure that very controversial little bus stop was looking as good as it could,” said the theater owner.

“Bay View is thriving, this has nothing to do with the BID,” said Brazeau.

When asked by City Plan Commission member Darryl Johnson if anything could be done to unify the bid, Brazeau responded, “It’s past that point.” Johnson directs the Riverworks BID at the north end of Riverwest.

If the measure fails to get the necessary signatures by July 4th, the BID will still exist, but could be downsized. “It’s not technically spelled out in the [state] statute what you’re supposed to do, which isn’t very helpful,” said assistant city attorney Jeremy McKenzie about the potential to remove properties from the district.

A pending loan for the development of streetscaping improvements on Kinnickinnic Ave. has been frozen pending the outcome of the petition, according to city commercial corridor manager Kenneth Little.

He told the commission that his office has worked with the BID to bring their board back into compliance with its bylaws in terms of size, which would allow the board to avoid having quorum issues that have effectively canceled many meetings.

The city is a neutral party on the future of the district. “Our department does not have any take on the matter,” said commercial corridor team staffer Montavius Jones.

The matter will next go to the Common Council’s Community and Economic Development Committee, but the 30-day clock is already counting down with the July 4th deadline looming.

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One thought on “Eyes on Milwaukee: Bay View Property Owners At Odds”

  1. John says:

    Brazeau has a very good point. If all the highest profile events in Bay View aren’t being supported by the BID, why wouldn’t they want the BID dissolved with how popular Bay View is right now? So they can waste their money on something as terribly ugly as the Bay View art stop? “This bus stop is the joke of Bay View… They can’t replace an E that has been missing off the bus stop for over a year.” He’s right.

    Tony Zielinski will change his position on literally anything to try and curry favor. He pressures people into trying to remove signatures to try and save the BID, but says he will support the popular opinion, which was obviously shown through the amount of signatures gathered.

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