Tuesday, August 11, 2015

It's Baaaack- Hill Farms project goes to Building Commission

I was looking for more on the Bradley Center maintenance project that’ll be discussed at tomorrow’s State Building Commission meeting (we’re borrowing $10 million to fix up an arena that’ll be demolished in 3 years for the new Bucks arena, and no, it doesn't make sense to me). As I did so, something bigger grabbed my eye. It’s item number 6 on the Building Commission’s Agenda, and it’s a visit from an old friend.
The new facility and parking structure will be designed and built as turnkey facilities on state-owned land at the Hill Farms site. The facilities will be designed in accordance with State technical specifications and design guidelines, including furniture, fixtures, and equipment. Construction of the parking structure is anticipated to take approximately one year and the State's new office facility is anticipated to take approximately two years to complete.

In addition, DOA will sell approximately 14 acres of excess land at the Hill Farms site and the Badger Road State Office Building and land in an effort to reduce the overall project cost.

After the ETF moves into the new office building at the Hill Farms site, the State will have no future need for the Badger Road building and land, and will therefore be sold. Likewise, after DOT moves into the new office building at the Hill Farms site, the State will sell the remaining underutilized Hill Farms land and demolished building site.
Total price tag? Nearly $190 million for construction and contingencies, and another $4.5 million in equipment costs. Now, the state anticipates it’ll get $13 million back from selling the land at Hill Farms and Badger Road, so it would fit under the $196.6 million that was set aside in prior budgets. But of course, we haven’t had to pay that back yet, so the debt service costs begin to kick in with future years (and I have no idea if the budget projected those additional amounts that’ll need to paid off in future years, or what fees are earmarked to pay those costs back).

And there seems to be a question as to who will get that prime acreage at Hill Farms and Badger Road. There is no formal offer listed in the Building Commission agenda, nor is there a name of the bidders for the land, although a team of four companies was announced as the winners of the construction contract this February, pending negotiations.

But it’s the sale of the land where your alarm bells should be going off, because you may recall this story from two years ago, where the Hill Farms project and nearby area seemed to be the subject of a sketchy-as-hell budget measure slipped in for the 2013 budget.
One of Wisconsin’s largest real estate developers wrote to Gov. Scott Walker to express his interest in buying several prominent state office buildings at the same time the Legislature was considering doing away with competitive bidding for such sales, according to newly released records.

Terrence Wall offered his cellphone number in the letter, urging that the “appropriate person” call him to discuss possible deals for properties including the state crime lab, records obtained by the Associated Press show. Wall also offered his support for the change in the bidding process, an idea that originated with Walker.

Wall sent the letter on June 10. The Republican-controlled Legislature agreed 11 days later to allow no-bid sales of state properties over the objection of Democrats, who argued that it opened the door for political cronies to be cut special deals…

Walker called for legalizing no-bid sales of state properties in the budget he proposed in February [2013]. The Republican-controlled Legislature agreed in June, after adding a requirement that any sale negotiated by the governor be approved by the budget committee. The state Building Commission, which Walker chairs and is controlled by Republicans, would also have to approve.
Wall is a longtime donor to GOP politicians, including nearly $10,000 to Walker right before last November's elections, and was one of the four finalists to get the huge construction and redevelopment project for the Hill Farms property itself.

He didn’t win that award, but you gotta wonder if T. Wall or some other connected donor has the inside track for that 14 acres of land (which will likely be developed and later sold for far more than $13 million), and if they’re paying anything close to top dollar. It has the same stench of sketchiness that the developments related to the Bucks arena have, where in the Bucks bill that Walker will sign tomorrow, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele will be allowed to go around the County Board to have sole authority to sell County-owned land in the Park East corridor. Reports have said Abele will sell the land to Bucks owners and related investors for $1, despite the market value being much higher than that (granted, the developers will then have to perform the underground cleanup rather than the County or other agencies).

Keep your eye on this Hill Farms story, and let’s see if real questions are asked tomorrow, either by members of the Building Commission or the media. You would think this meeting would carry extra attention, as Gov Walker is scheduled to chair that meeting at State Fair Park after signing the Bucks arena bill that morning. Perhaps the Bucks arena isn't the only big-spending item that Scotty has to explain away for a national audience tomorrow.

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