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County Grounds property: Get it while it’s hot

By Joe Lanane

It looks increasingly likely that Wauwatosa city officials will approve their sixth TIF district this September, which will pave the way for University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee developers to purchase County Grounds property toward its Innovation Park project.

The $13.55 million sale includes 6.58 acres of rent-free land on which county officials will continue to operate. This is the home of the current Parks Administration building, a historical structure that will cost the county no more than maintenance and utilities the next 10 years thanks to language written into the purchasing contract.

This was a contingency stressed by both county and school officials, all in an effort to ensure the Innovation Park entrance way feeds in and out of Watertown Plank Road — or near highway access. For those following at home, that’s nearly one-quarter ($3.3 million) of the purchase price dedicated solely to retaining an existing county facility so UWM can have a desirable front door.

This goes to show just how valuable this property can be. UWM officials would not make this additional purchase unless they were certain private developers will follow in the school’s footsteps.

That is, after all, why Wauwatosa is expected to grant the property TIF designation. After city tax dollars pay the $12 million infrastructure costs to complete Innovation Park, the property will join the area’s property tax roll.

Once that happens, it will provide the area income the County Grounds never could. Excitement surrounding the project may also spur economic development long before then. Either way, the County Grounds have proven to be a valuable goldmine.

One researcher speculated much of the existing county facilities on the grounds would not exist if supervisors were to revote today. That is why it is likely more private development will continue on this property — even if that means moving existing county services to less-desirable locations.

Joe Lanane is a staff writer at The Daily Reporter. He goes by the ol’ real estate motto of “Location, location, location.”

One comment

  1. UWM, of course, pays no taxes. The only reason the land might “join the area’s tax roll” would be because private development is being encouraged by the risky $12 million TIF district being debated. And, although it may be true that the Wauwatosa common council is “likely to approve” the TIF as requested, it may be a very long time before tax revenues follow.

    There are many in the community who think this process needs to slow down a bit to adjust to the change in leadership at UWM and equally important changes in ever-shifting financial considerations. There is no need to rush a TIF approval, with Wauwatosa taxpayers’ dollars as collateral.

    I am dismayed by the headline “get it while it’s hot.” That implies that the best use of the land is to be developed for tax revenues. In fact, UWM, the Wauwatosa Common Council, and the public have all agreed that one of the most important features of this land is much less tangible but arguably more valuable than tax dollars and that is the Monarch butterfly habitats that grace the property. This is indeed a most valuable site. It’s most valuable feature is the land itself, not the development prospects.

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