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Developer accepts Milwaukee hiring law

Sean Ryan

Putting people to work on the Moderne project is more important than deciding how or if local hiring and contracting laws will apply to the job, according to a Milwaukee union leader.

“I have people out there that are running out of benefits,” said Lyle Balistreri, president of the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council. “They are running out of money.”

The AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust Fund is investing in the proposed $55.2 million condominium and apartment project, so it will be a union job, Balistreri said. Whether city attorneys require the project comply with city hiring and contracting laws that the unions supported is a secondary point, he said.

The city in March approved a law setting new standards (PDF) for city projects and developments that receive money from Milwaukee. The Moderne is requesting a $10 million loan (PDF) from the city.

The Department of City Development is seeking advice from city attorneys as to whether the project must comply with the law because the loan payments and interest are at market rates. City attorneys have offered a decision.

Rocky Marcoux, Milwaukee DCD commissioner, said during city budget hearings Friday that the rules should not apply to loans such as the one the Moderne developer is requesting.

The Moderne is the second case in which the city has tried to figure out how to apply the new law. In the last week, American Sewer Services Inc., Rubicon, and Underground Pipeline Inc., New Berlin, sued the city after it applied a local-bid preference to two sewer contracts.

Rick Barrett, developer of the Moderne, said he will comply with the law, called the MORE ordinance, even if the city does not require it.

“The spirit of the MORE ordinance is part of the project,” he said.

The rules should be required for the project because of the city loan, said Alderman Robert Bauman, who supported the ordinance. He said he already is dealing with questions about whether the city should loan money to Moderne, and voluntary compliance could help drum up support.

“Good for him, smart move,” Bauman said after hearing that Barrett will follow the contracting rules.

Pam Fendt, coordinator of the Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods Project, said the Moderne’s voluntary compliance marks a political victory for the law, if not a regulatory one.

“We think it’s great that developers take this community responsibility seriously,” said Fendt, who lobbied the city to approve the MORE law. “No matter what the interest rate of this loan, it is $10 million.”

The 22-month project is expected to create at least 1,200 construction jobs, according to a letter of support the Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee sent to Milwaukee Alderman Michael Murphy.

And that, Balistreri said, trumps any regulatory or political issues surrounding the project. “For me, I wish I had more jobs like this,” Balistreri said. “Now all I have to do is get it approved.”

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