No Streetcar Expansion in Time for DNC
Proposal held again. Marcoux, Hamilton fight over future of streetcar.
There will be no streetcar extension by the Democratic National Convention, but Department of City Development Commissioner Rocky Marcoux calls that issue a red herring to the viability of the project.
The Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee held the $52 million proposal for the second time, but also opened the door to approving the deal before the end of the year. But Marcoux said every lost week jeopardizes the ability to fund the project’s eventual construction costs.
“We have to move at the speed of trust,” said council president Ashanti Hamilton. “I understand the timeline with the [tax incremental financing districts] expiring, but we have until the end of the year to meet that deadline. Trying to force-feed this into a project that will be done by the Democratic National Convention is a foolhardy effort.”
Mayor Tom Barrett unveiled a multi-phase proposal in early May to build an extension to the convention center and new public plaza by July 2020, an extension north via Fiserv Forum to W. North Ave. and N. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. and south via N. Milwaukee St. to S. 1st St. and W. Pittsburgh Ave, extending just into Walker’s Point.
Department of City Development Commissioner Rocky Marcoux said Hamilton’s assessment of the timeline of the TIF districts is correct, but that the city needs to be able to leverage those districts this year.
“For every week that we are not actually doing project development on the front end of this project, we lose a week on the back end of the project,” said Marcoux.
“Ultimately we have to determine if we want a streetcar that serves our neighborhoods and not just our Downtown. That’s really what we’re deciding,” said Marcoux. He said the council needs leadership on the matter, noting they get paid to vote, not to hold things.
Hamilton said more needed to be done to set up anti-displacement efforts and other programs to make sure black homeowners and others were not displaced. “I’m not asking them to trust. Deliver for them on the front end,” said Hamilton.
Hamilton told Urban Milwaukee after the hearing that he was looking for a permanent workforce development program, an established anti-displacement fund and a neighborhood reinvestment program. Marcoux said the city was working on those very things, but needed the streetcar project to continue to ensure funding availability for the initiatives.
The council president said Marcoux’s statement that the DNC wasn’t the driver was “disingenuous” and he wanted to see more action, not just words.
Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs, through whose district the northern extension would run, is an advocate for the streetcar extension. She said going back to before Fiserv Forum’s construction she has advocated for anti-displacement efforts and would continue to do so with or without the streetcar.
The council will recess for August following its July 30th meeting, pushing any decision into September if it does not act on the 30th or call a special meeting.
Alderman and mayoral candidate Tony Zielinski‘s longstanding opposition to the streetcar became a source of infighting for the committee. Zielinski, who does not serve on the committee, asked a number of questions of the administration officials in attendance.
Bauman cut him off at one point, claiming Zielinski’s statements were effectively a campaign speech. “At some point, you can’t just tell bald-face lies,” said Ald. Robert Bauman. Coggs also questioned the validity of his statements, but committee chair Ald. Khalif Rainey said he wanted to hear from the Bay View alderman.
Zielinski, who voted for the project in 2011 before becoming an ardent opponent, asked what it would cost to operate the new line. Department of Public Works Commissioner Jeff Polenske said that more design and engineering work would need to be done to determine service frequencies and vehicle speeds to calculate operating costs. “I’m just going to tell you right now, I don’t believe you,” responded Zielinski.
Bauman interjected: “We know the additional operating costs of an additional 3.6-mile route are going to be at least as much we’re spending now.” The system, with a lakefront extension scheduled to open in 2020, has a $4.3 million operating budget. That cost is offset currently by a federal operating grant and Potawatomi Hotel & Casino’s 10-year, $12-million sponsorship agreement.
Polenske is optimistic more sponsors will be found. “We have seen tremendous interest in additional sponsors. Those discussions are ongoing,” said the commissioner. A proposal to derive revenue from kiosks along the route also continues to advance with four firms submitting bids; that revenue would replace revenue otherwise generated by fares.
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For more project details, including the project timeline, financing, route and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.
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