New property taxes generated by a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus must be large enough to outweigh the loss of undeveloped land the community prizes, according to one Wauwatosa alderman.
Alderman Peter Donegan said he wants to know how much of the land will be covered by taxable, private development versus university buildings that will not generate property taxes.
He asked the question during a Tuesday meeting where Wauwatosa Common Council members got their first look at the $250 million plan to develop an 88-acre property into housing, university research buildings and buildings for private research companies.
Many members of the community, Donegan said, want to see the land remain green space.
“The argument that prevails over that,” he said, “or causes us to compromise on that is the need for us to develop more taxable land.”
Bruce Block, chairman of the UWM Real Estate Foundation Inc., said it is impossible to predict the final balance of public and private development because the project could take more than a decade to complete.
The Real Estate Foundation will give the university land for projects, but will also lease and sell land to private companies whose research relates to UW-Milwaukee research programs on the campus, Block said.
“It’ll all be hypothetical,” Block said, “because we don’t know. This would be a 10-year or 15-year snapshot into the future.”
If only half of the 1.1-million square feet of building space is privately owned, Block said, the taxes the development will generate are substantial.
The property, which is owned by Milwaukee County, generates no property taxes now, Block said.
If the Real Estate Foundation buys it for $13.5 million, the land will begin to generate taxes the following year before anything is built, he said.
The first phase of the development plans for a 20,000-square-foot building with equipment and lab space for UW-Milwaukee researchers and engineers working for businesses. The second project would be a 150,000-square-foot UW-Milwaukee building.
If Wauwatosa approves the campus, the university will apply for state money for the first university building, Block said. But, he said he cannot predict whether the state will approve money for more UW-Milwaukee buildings in Wauwatosa.
“All we can do with the state is make the application for the first building,” he said, “and they don’t give you three buildings at a time. They give you one building at a time.”
The Real Estate Foundation will estimate the potential for tax generation in response to Donegan’s question. Donegan said the property could be developed entirely by a private company, and he wants to know if the city will be giving up tax base if it approves the university project.
“As much as we’re taking on this development,” he said, “to what degree do we compromise that side of the balance?”