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UW-Milwaukee engineering campus takes shape (UPDATE)

By Sean Ryan

Wauwatosa residents hungry for information stand between a proposed $250 million engineering campus development and a planned 2010 construction start.

The developers of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Innovation Park in Wauwatosa are ready to start answering questions. The UWM Real Estate Foundation Inc. requested city approval for its Innovation Park project, and on Tuesday will publicly present its plan at Wauwatosa City Hall.

Foundation representatives will show up hours early to field questions about the project, said David Gilbert, president of the nonprofit foundation. Residents will get another chance to learn about the project on March 8, also at Wauwatosa City Hall. The earliest the design could be approved is May 4.

“On a development of this size,” Gilbert said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if it took longer. Certainly we’re trying to move expeditiously.”

The campus plan would develop 1.1 million square feet of new building space on an 88-acre property the foundation plans to buy from Milwaukee County. The site is between Watertown Plank Road and Swan Boulevard on the east side of U.S. Highway 45.

A Tuesday meeting about the project’s effect on monarch butterflies drew 60 people and flooded a Wauwatosa City Hall room. That’s just the start, said Mayor Jill Didier.

She said she is preparing for the city to spend the coming months reviewing the proposed project plan and considering questions about city financial support, the effect on traffic and public access to the property.

“It is a community of people who are engaged,” Didier said, “and that is not a negative. And I think it’s important for people to be able to express their thoughts.”

The foundation has spent the past two months redesigning its campus proposal to preserve land in the northern portion of the site, Gilbert said. Milwaukee County gave the foundation until the end of April to close its purchase of the property, he said.

Because of the delay while redesigning the project and expectations for a long discussion with Wauwatosa, Gilbert said the foundation in March probably will ask the county for more time to buy the land.

Gilbert said he does not know when the foundation must get city approval to start construction this year.

“We would like in this calendar year to have some sort of infrastructure work begin,” he said, “and potentially begin work on the first building.”

The first building, Gilbert said, is expected to be 20,000 square feet with equipment and lab space for UW-Milwaukee researchers and engineers working for businesses that will move into Innovation Park. The foundation has applied for a $4.5 million federal Economic Development Administration grant to pay for the project, he said.

“It’s a great first statement for the park,” Gilbert said, “because it’s a link between academics and industry.”

Gilbert said about 60 percent of the development will be private buildings, including 200 housing units to be built on the northern portion of the property, and 40 percent will be university buildings. The second project envisioned for the site is an estimated $75 million, 150,000-square-foot UW-Milwaukee building, he said.

Didier said she supports the concept of the campus development, but will not commit to a yes or no vote on rezoning until she hears more from the community and learns more about the project. An unresolved question, for example, is the foundation’s intention to request tax-incremental financing for the project, she said.

“It would not be wise,” Didier said, “to say we’re going to do this and this and this until we identify what the questions are and where the interest is.”

5 comments

  1. Sadly, I think is a done deal and the “hearings’ are just a formality. As Didier said “it’s important for people to be able to express their thoughts.” One can almost hear the: ‘before we do what we want.’ that is implicit.
    I was at a County Board hearing last year where opposition to the sale of this land was overwhelming. The sale moved forward anyway. The city hearings won’t be any different. People will vent and the project will move forward,
    If it were put to a binding County wide referendum: “Should Milwaukee County divest itself of publicly held assets for the benefit of private enterprise projects?”
    I don’t think it could ever pass.

  2. An angry mob of Wauwatosa residents would to have turnout and force their alderman and mayor to save the last portion of the County grounds from being developed.

    UWM should be looking at revitalizing areas in Milwaukee neighborhoods that need it and that will coincide with City redevelopment efforts like the Tower Automotive Plant.

    Good luck.

  3. Does anyone remember just a few years back when the entire area was wooded and walking trails were abundant with wildlife. Why develop the last natural space in Wauwatosa? Arent there other areas that could be redone? Again private investment looking to make a buck and destroy what little natural space we have left.

  4. God, what a tragic waste. There are so many, more appropriate and likely cheaper places for the campus to go. This is just another suburban office park plan – stifing to creativity and doing only the bare minimum to stimulate jobs and urbanity. Why couldn’t this go on some of the parking lots in the 5th/3rd ward? Why not the Tower Automotive site? Why not the menomonee valley? Unbelievable.

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