Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

The long death rattle of the Eschweiler buildings

Eschweiler buildings, TIF, Milwaukee County Grounds, Innovation Park

Apparently the lengthy dying of the Eschweiler buildings is nearly at an end. But before we watch the wrecking ball, we'll watch Wauwatosa capitulate to apartment developer Mandel Group's bait-and-switch. Restoring the buildings on the County Grounds/Innovation Park was one of the conditions of the developer’s landing the project—and the TIF (Tax Increment Financing) monies to start it. You will excuse me if I’m skeptical of a developer who wouldn’t know the condition of the buildings and the cost to restore them before jumping into that pool. So I must assume they never intended to do the job.

More concerning is the increasing use of TIF funds as handouts from communities to private businesses. Created to reduce poverty, TIF districts make sense where there is blight or where there is no other way for desired development to happen. Does anybody really believe there is no other way development could happen on this highly desirable piece of real estate?

All over the country, community councils get dewy eyed when they hear the sweet promise of increased tax revenues—eventually—from TIF districts. And yet there is little evidence that additional tax revenue ever exceeds (or even meets) ongoing costs in the same area for roads, sewers, services, and other maintenance and improvements.

Where TIF money is used for housing, as it will be here, the community should require a percentage of the units to be affordable, or lower than market rate. The purpose of the financing arrangement is to raise the economic wellbeing of the community, not to maximize a builder’s profits--or to replace the people who already live in the area (in this case, mostly deer and raccoons) with the richer ones some hope will displace them. Originally, there was talk about affordable housing. Now, all of a sudden, the only adjective we see is “upscale.”

Apparently, some of the push on this project comes because UWM needs the Mandel Group (and Wauwatosa) money now to avoid defaulting on its payments to Milwaukee County. But really, is that Wauwatosa’s problem to solve?

Much as I love the Eschweiler buildings, it's clear no life support is going to be offered them. No angel with deep pockets or fundraising savvy is stepping forward to save the day. But let's be clear that "gone" means "gone." Planting orchards, the developer's touted commemoration, is a nice way to landscape. But it has nothing to do with the history of the buildings. If you want to pay tribute to the buildings, you might save them. Or at least use Eschweiler's design elements -- and red brick-- in the buildings you create.


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