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Uncertainty undermines Tower Auto property

Sean Ryan

Unresolved land-sale negotiations between Milwaukee and the Tower Automotive property owner are scaring away businesses and stymieing site redevelopment.

The property could become Milwaukee’s inner-city signature development — akin to Miller Park or the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Calatrava addition — said Howard Snyder, executive director of the Northwest Side Community Development Corp. But, as he takes business representatives on tours of the city to show off potential project sites, the uncertainty and lawsuits surrounding the 84-acre Tower property at 3545 N. 27th St., Milwaukee, lead companies to select other, more problem-free locations, he said.

“They go, ‘Fine, we’ll go find somebody who is ready to roll,’” Snyder said. “That’s why I’m real interested in getting it done so we can move on to the fun things.”

Since November, the city and the property owner, Milwaukee Industrial Trade Center LLC, have been negotiating a land sale.

The attorneys from Waukesha-based Murn & Martin SC, who represented MITC in a 2008 lawsuit (PDF) it filed against the city of Milwaukee, last week filed a construction lien (PDF) against the Tower property. The lien was filed to recover $38,025 the law firm claims MITC owes.

John Theiler Bode, attorney with Murn & Martin, said the firm will recover the money if a land sale is approved. He said when Murn & Martin stopped representing MITC in November, sale negotiations were progressing well.

Charles Graupner, an attorney representing MITC, agreed negotiations are looking good, but he would not comment on details of the discussions.

“I’m optimistic,” said Graupner, of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, Milwaukee. “I think we have made some progress on some of the tougher issues.”

Graupner said Wednesday he was not aware of Murn & Martin’s lien, but it should not affect the negotiations.
He said he does not know the details of what’s going on at the Tower site now.

“MITC is carrying on their normal business operations,” Graupner said. “But, obviously, until we get the deal closed, the city is not going to be able to do all that much in terms of business development there.”

Snyder said there could be opportunities to get federal stimulus money or to use the site for stimulus projects. But nothing will happen until the uncertainty surrounding the site is resolved, he said.

“A crisis is an opportunity, and the opportunity is, ‘Let’s get everybody together, and let’s figure out what we can do,’” Snyder said. “I’m not into the blame game. That’s not what I do. I don’t know who’s at fault or what’s at fault. I just know it needs to end.”

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