Jeramey Jannene
Eyes on Milwaukee

Zillman Park Deal Approved

Committee approves $500,000 for Bay View park after debating its TIF financing.

By - Sep 17th, 2019 03:00 pm
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Zillman Park before KinetIK construction. Photo by Dave Reid.

Zillman Park before KinetIK construction. Photo by Dave Reid.

A small, city-owned park along S. Kinnickinnic Ave. in Bay View is set to be rehabbed under a plan approved Tuesday by the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee.

The city will create a tax-incremental financing (TIF) district to provide $500,000 to redesign Zillman Park at 2168 S. Kinnickinnic Ave. and shutter a nearby playground that needs substantial repair.

The district will use incremental property tax revenue from the 144-unit KinetiK apartment building currently under construction immediately north of the park to fund the effort. The new building will include the Flour and Feed food hall on its first floor with a plaza bordering the park.

“This park has been top on our list in terms of its condition and time since last reconstruction,” said MKE Plays coordinator Joe Kaltenberg. But it doesn’t stand alone in that category, he added: “Quite frankly we have a dozen parks that are in a similar condition throughout the city.

According to Department of City Development project manager Alyssa Remington, the city owns 62 parks and other recreation areas that it maintains with a staff of three and an approximately $200,000 annual maintenance effort.

Three of the 62 are within a quarter mile of one another in Bay View. The city envisions removing the playground equipment at nearby Allis Street Park (2156 S. Allis St.) as part of the Zillman Park improvements. The equipment has been deemed “obsolete.” A basketball court on E. Bay St. near E. Lincoln Ave. would be left as is.

“Our thought was instead of diluting that money across three parks we would put substantial money into Zillman and make that a really good place for the community, ” said Kaltenberg at an August community meeting.

Remington said the improvements, similar to other MKE Plays efforts, would focus on creating a space welcoming for people of all ages.

But the use of TIF funding has drawn opposition from at least one area resident. Christopher Miller, who previously served as president of the Bay View Neighborhood Association and lives near the park, urged the committee to vote against the deal.

He said the district would divert funding from libraries, public safety and other city programs to a project that neighbors aren’t clamoring for. “To divert those funds to Bay View, which is doing relatively well, is a mistake,” said Miller. He said that BVNA members had never identified improving the park as a key item and New Land was getting the benefit of the improved park without having to pay for it.

But Alderman Robert Bauman objected to the idea that TIF funding cuts other services. “It affects the tax base, it affects the tax rate, but it absolutely does not affect revenue,” said Bauman. The city is able to raise its levy to recoup incremental property value within a district, allowing it to avoid foregoing the revenue generated within the district.

Remington affirmed Bauman’s remarks: “I think that how our department looks at this is that it does allow us to invest in other areas of the community.”

Bauman noted that rebuilding a park without using the city’s annual capital allocation would allow another to be rebuilt faster. ” “You can do a park in Merril Park, which is a low-income area, because you’re using tax-incremental financing to do this one?” asked the alderman of the city officials. “Yes,” said Kaltenberg. The city’s parks expert said that it was “responsible consolidation” to free up more funds in the future.

New Land director Tim Gokhman also responded to Miller, stating that his organization had invested in the area by paying for rebuilding E. Archer St. and the connected alley.

The committee unanimously approved the deal, which still needs approval from the full Common Council.

About Zillman Park

The triangular park, bordered by E. Ward St., E. Archer Ave. and S. Kinnickinnic Ave., contains .7 acres of green space. Beyond benches and trees, the only amenities in the park are a Bublr Bikes docking station, the southernmost one in the system, a historical marker honoring Bay View’s immigrant industrial workers and the 12-foot-tall, welded-steel sculpture titled “Bud” by artist and former Bay View resident Carl Billingsley.

The park is named after Billingsley’s wife’s grandfather Erwin Zillman (1888-1970), who represented the area on the Common Council from 1948 to 1956 and 1958 to 1964 as well as serving as publisher of the Bay View Observer newspaper from 1934 to 1958 and authoring his own Bay View history book So You Will Know.

For more on what neighbors would like to see from the park, see our coverage of an August community meeting.

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Related Legislation: File 190787

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