Wednesday, September 9, 2015

$1 county land sale brings Bucks arena closer to reality

Today featured another step toward the completion of the Bucks arena project, as Milwaukee County will sell a large parcel of land in the Park East corridor to a group headed by the Bucks’ current owners, and will be used for added development around the new arena.
The land sale proposed this summer would allow the Bucks ownership group to buy the land north of their proposed arena site for $1. The Bucks owners plan a multi-year buildout of that property valued at $400 million, with new housing, offices, parking, a grocery store and a team practice facility.

The property stretches between North Old World Third Street and The Brewery, north of Juneau Avenue. The roughly 10-year buildout would bring 1.5 million square feet of new building space. That includes 496 apartments, 130,000 square feet of offices and 96,000 square feet of retail space.

The pending announcement shows Abele’s office reached terms with county comptroller Scott Manske. Due to a recent law change in the state budget, only Abele and Manske need to sign off the deal for it to proceed. As of last month, Manske said he was seeking minor changes to the proposed sale agreements.
The land has been appraised at $8.8 million, but Abele argued that the $1 sale price is acceptable since the Bucks group will handle the cleanup and preparation of the site, which would costs millions of dollars. That didn’t soothe the feelings of several Milwaukee County Board members, including Supervisor Steve Taylor. Taylor said he was happy the Bucks were likely to stay, but wasn't a fan of the unilateral nature of the negotiations.
“This is not about Milwaukee County selling the Park East for $1, this is about Chris Abele selling the Park East for $1,” said Taylor, Chairman of the Economic and Community Development Committee. “The County Executive and his administration managed to freeze the Board out of a vote on this proposal, which means a thorough public discussion did not take place, except through a public hearing held by the Board.

“There are certainly questions about transparency surrounding this sale on the County Executive’s part. The County Executive agreed to this sale without holding a public hearing or without a public vetting.”

Taylor called the sale a “momentous development,” but he said he hoped the taxpayers would see a return on the sale.

“As chairman of the Economic and Community Development Committee, naturally I want to see economic enhancements to the County,” Taylor said. “But we won’t know for almost a decade whether this particular sale was the right thing to do. I’m happy the Bucks will stay, but I want the best deal for taxpayers and I don’t know whether this is it. A public vetting of the proposal would have helped the public to know whether this was a good deal.”
In addition to Taylor’s concerns, County Board Chair Theodore Lipscomb and Supervisor Michael Mayo also expressed dismay over County Executive Abele’s ability to make this deal in private without any form of oversight.

This largely wraps up the County’s end of the Bucks arena agreement, as they have already had their other "contribution" of a $4 million cut in state shared revenues assessed for the annual budget that will be debated in the next 2 months. Now what remains is the City of Milwaukee gifting land, a Tax-Incremental District, and building a parking garage for the arena, and that proposal will be going in front of the City’s Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee next week.

So it appears this thing is still on track to breaking ground before the snow flies this winter. But that final step at the City level may still be worth keeping an eye on, to see if the City puts on further demands and/or conditions to the project. After all, while the City is the one entity that would benefit the most from increased property values around the arena (particularly since it takes the burden off of residential and other current taxpayers), the City is also is taking on the most fiscal risk due to the TIF financing and property tax exemptions to go along with the one-time expenses it has to take on as part of the new arena project. So stay tuned.

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