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City inches closer to Tower redevelopment

Sean Ryan
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When he was a child, Todd Spewer said, he fell asleep to the clinking of the metal stamps at the Tower Automotive site.

Spewer, born and raised near the Tower property on Capitol Drive in Milwaukee, said he remembers the celebrations when adults in the neighborhood landed a job at Tower. And he said he remembers the depression in Warren’s Lounge — the Hopkins Street bar where Tower and A.O. Smith workers used to cash their checks — after Tower moved out and the site went silent in 2006.

“We would go in there to drink, and you would hear people talk about the regret of it having to close,” Spewer said.

Spewer on Tuesday was one of the Tower area residents who showed up to ask the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee to buy the property and redevelop it.

The authority complied, approving plans to buy the land from Milwaukee Industrial Trade Center for $3.5 million and spend $1 million relocating the recycling companies that now operate there. The authority also approved a $15 million tax-incremental financing district to help cover the $32.95 million cost of preparing the 84-acre Tower site for redevelopment. The Milwaukee Common Council will consider approving the TIF district this month.

A TIF district lets a municipality borrow money to promote new development. The municipality then can use the new property taxes generated by the development to pay off the debt.

Benji Timm, Milwaukee Department of City Development project manager for the 30th Street industrial corridor, said the site should be prepared for redevelopment after 2013.

The city plans to spend $10.7 million in TIF money to remediate and demolish most of the 2.1 million square feet of building space on the property, $6.3 million to clean environmental contamination and $4.2 million to build new infrastructure.

“The city could have acted sooner on the Tower automotive issue,” said Willie Hines, Milwaukee Common Council president. “The costs may not have been as great as they are now. However, I am thankful and appreciative that we are moving in that direction.”

Hines said he must get more details about the TIF plan before committing to vote for it. But he said he likes that the district included $400,000 to give forgivable loans to homeowners for house improvements.

Spewer said he does not expect the manufacturers the city tries to attract to the property will have as great an effect on current residents as the Tower and A.O. Smith facilities had on him. But, he said, the job of preparing the land for redevelopment should create a lot of jobs for area residents.

“I see more jobs being in the actual developing than the post-development,” he said. “It would just be nice to see in the construction phase of it the impact it could have on the community.”

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