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County deal for Oshkosh buildings could cost city

Paul Snyder
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Winnebago County could save about $6 million on office renovations by buying the former Oshkosh B’Gosh headquarters. But skeptical officials say such a deal has too many downsides.

If the county buys the buildings, the city of Oshkosh could lose $66,000 per year in taxes, and expansion would be difficult because the Oshkosh B’Gosh buildings are confined by city streets.

“I could imagine worse alternatives than the county filling those buildings,” said Oshkosh Alderman Tony Palmeri. “But do I like losing tax revenue? No, of course not. I’d like to urge the company to find a private buyer.”

With Oshkosh B’Gosh employees moving to Connecticut and Georgia, the company wants to sell its buildings and is offering them to the county for about $1.3 million, said Mike Elder, the county’s director of facilities and property management.

The county would need to renovate the space, Elder said, which would raise the total to about $5.5 million.

But that is far less than two other options under consideration — $11.5 million to renovate and expand a county-owned building in Winnebago and $18.5 million to build new.

The Winnebago County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Oct. 20 on buying the Oshkosh B’Gosh buildings. Some board members, including Chairman David Albrecht, say the deal is a clear-cut cost saver, but others are wary.

County Supervisor Chuck Farrey said buying the buildings is not in the county’s best long-term interest. He said the county owns plenty of land surrounding its Winnebago property, which would make expansion easier than in Oshkosh. He also said if the county buys the Oshkosh site, the site comes off the city’s tax roll.

Oshkosh Assessor Steven Schwoerer said even if the buildings stayed vacant, the city could collect tax on the property.

“But there are two schools of thought on that,” he said. “On one hand, if the county buys, it’s tax exempt. On the other, you have people filling the building and taking advantage of the city’s economy. It might help as an economic stimulus for the area.”

Palmeri said even though the city could collect tax on the empty buildings, it would be better to have those buildings occupied.

“We already have too many empty buildings in the city,” he said. “It does not contribute to a thriving economy.”

Still, the Oshkosh B’Gosh offer won’t be on the table long, said County Supervisor Tom Ellis. He said the company is eager to sell, and the County Board was told it needs to decide whether to buy the property soon.

If that’s the case, Palmeri said, he wants to know why the city isn’t pushing for a private company to take over the property. If that happened, he said, the city would get people into the buildings and would keep the $66,000 tax on its books.

“I’m not ready to say don’t sell it to the county, because that’s too simplistic,” he said. “But it would be nice to allow time for us to see if we can find companies that might be interested.”

Albrecht said the county has all but ruled out renovating and expanding its Winnebago property or building new, so passing up the Oshkosh B’Gosh offer would be a missed opportunity.

But saving money now could cost the county more in the long run, Farrey said.

“Frankly, I’m going to have a hard time justifying it to voters why I want a project that’s about $5 million more than this,” he said. “But we don’t know what our needs will be in 10 to 20 years, and I think we’re handicapped in (Oshkosh) as far as allowing expansion.”

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