By Sean Ryan
The Milwaukee Common Council signed off on a $9.3 million loan for construction of the Moderne high-rise.
But as project supporters celebrated the promise of new construction jobs, a Milwaukee alderman called the deal a missed opportunity to train new workers.
“It’s imperative that we do that,” said Alderman Joe Davis. “Otherwise, we’ll continue to hear lame excuses as to why this city has a high crime rate and a high unemployment rate.”
The Moderne, under a plan approved by the Milwaukee Common Council on Tuesday and awaiting final approval from Mayor Tom Barrett, would receive the loan from the city’s Park East tax-incremental financing district. The lack of money for training on the project, Davis said, reflects a failure by the city, not the Moderne developer.
The Moderne would have 203 apartments, 14 condominiums and retail space. It would be on the corner of Old World Third Street and Juneau Avenue.
Davis raised the only opposition to the $55.2 million project, which has heavy support from local unions because their members would fill all 1,920 construction jobs created by the development. The promise of jobs and a boost to the tax base became the fundamental arguments for why the city should accept the risk of loaning money to the project.
“There’s not a recession in the construction industry,” said Alderman Michael Murphy, “there’s a depression.”
Rick Barrett, the Moderne developer, said he can start construction within about 30 days of the city approving the loan. Barrett, as a condition of getting the loan, agreed that Milwaukee residents will work at least 30 percent of the hours on the construction project, and 25 percent of the construction contract money will go to companies registered in the city’s Emerging Business Enterprise program.
“Being a Milwaukee resident and growing up here and being born and raised in Milwaukee, it means the world to me,” Barrett said of the prospect of putting builders to work.
Even though the Moderne would create a lot of jobs for journeymen, Davis said, the city should demand more training so unemployed people in the city can get skills for future jobs. Other projects that received Park East TIF support got extra money to train Milwaukee residents to be builders.
But the city missed its opportunity on those projects, which include the Manpower Inc. headquarters and North End apartment project, to create a city-subsidized training program that can apply to all Park East projects that receive city money, Davis said.
“Unfortunately, this is the third project in the Park East in which we weren’t able to come up with a comprehensive plan,” he said.
The Moderne developers are working with the Milwaukee Area Workforce Investment Board to find ways to hire and train city residents, said project spokesman Tim McMurtry.
Although there is no program to guide training on the Moderne, the project could offer a chance for the city to create a model system, he said.
Davis said Milwaukee must lead the way because developers and contractors cannot afford to pay unskilled workers the high prevailing wages required on city projects such as the Moderne. Without a proven program, the city will have trouble creating job opportunities for trainees, especially when journeymen are hungry for work, he said.
“That’s the reason,” Davis said, “why we have to come up with a model that people understand.”