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Common Wealth pushes Garver Mill redevelopment

By Paul Snyder

Madison-based Common Wealth Development Inc. has a plan to raise $800,000 for badly needed for repairs to the 104-year-old Garver Mill.

But the nonprofit developer is less sure about securing the $16 million needed to turn the building into an arts incubator.

“Ideally, we’d like to be able to get half the money in tax credits,” said Ted Parker, Common Wealth’s financial manager. “The other half would be fundraising. The gorilla in the room is the fundraising. It’s really premature to say how long that is going to take.”

Still, Common Wealth is working through the city approval process. The developer this month received approval for redevelopment from the city’s Landmarks Commission, and Parker said Common Wealth will apply this week for brownfield cleanup grants from the city. Common Wealth is seeking a $520,000 city grant and will add $280,000 of its own money to perform $800,000 worth of repair work.

That work will include a temporary roof, structural reinforcement and lead and asbestos removal.

At the very least, Parker said, the repair work should buy time to raise money.

Time has posed the greatest threat to the building’s chances for redevelopment. The mill, formerly a factory and feed producer, has been vacant for years and has fallen into disrepair.

Alderwoman Marsha Rummel represents the district containing the mill and was a member of the city’s Garver Feed Mill Reuse Committee, the panel that recommended redeveloping the mill into an arts incubator. She said sections of the roof are missing and the exterior is weathered. Waiting too much longer could make a rehabilitation project too expensive, she said.

“The one thing that sticks out for me from when I was on the committee is someone describing the building as ‘melting,'” she said. “It really is. The big question is can it be salvaged and reused, because the longer we wait, the tougher that becomes. They really need to do some work quick to shore it up.”

If Common Wealth gets the city grant, Parker said, stabilization work could begin before the end of the year. He said the preliminary work is crucial to saving and ultimately converting the building.

Parker said he does not know how long the stabilization work will hold.

That could be an issue if the economy does not recover soon, Rummel said.

“Because of the philanthropic market, gifts have gone down and people don’t have as much money to spare,” she said. “There’s going to be fundraising for the Overture Center and for Central Library, so there are a lot of public opportunities for donations.”

Securing city approvals for the project now can help solidify the campaign to finance the project, Rummel said. But even in good times, she said, raising $8 million is a challenge.

“I think it will be an incredible opportunity for the city if this project can happen,” she said. “And I do think Common Wealth is very skilled and can make it work. But the burden is on them to find the money.”

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