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Milwaukee County panel delays Park East vote

By Beth Kevit

Three development proposals have been submitted for Milwaukee's vacant Park East property. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

Milwaukee County has put on hold the sale of a Park East property while supervisors weigh competing proposals from three developers.

The county issued a request for proposals in May for a 2.3-acre parcel bordered by North Broadway, North Milwaukee, North Water and East Ogden streets.

Teig Whaley-Smith, director of county economic development, on Monday recommended the county’s Economic and Community Development Committee approve a proposal from Minnetonka, Minn.-based Opus Development Co. LLC and Chicago-based Mercy Housing Lakefront. The $60 million proposal includes 33,000 square feet of retail space, 21,000 square feet of office space and 190 residential units.

Whaley-Smith presented only Opus’ proposal Monday. Milwaukee-based Wangard Partners Inc. and HSI Properties LLC, Waukesha, submitted the other two proposals.

But committee members delayed the vote, saying they wanted information about the competing proposals before making a decision.

Stewart Wangard, president and CEO of Wangard Partners, was at the meeting and told supervisors about his proposal, adding that it would be better for the county than Opus’.

Wangard refused to put a price tag on his proposal but said he expects it would yield $15 million more in gross tax revenue during 30 years than Opus’ proposal. His proposal includes apartments, retail and commercial space, and a park.

Brian Randall, an attorney with Milwaukee-based Friebert, Finerty & St. John SC who represents Wangard Partners, told supervisors the company could start construction in spring and is prepared to pay the $3.2 million appraised value of the parcel.

HSI representatives did not speak at the meeting Monday. Reached after the meeting, Ryan Schultz, co-founder of the firm, said HSI has proposed a roughly $10 million project that would include a gas station and retail space similar to the Milwaukee Public Market in the Third Ward.

Julie Ledger, vice president and general manager of Opus, told the committee Monday the company’s project could start in fall 2014 and take 18 to 24 months to complete. Opus’ proposal includes a $2.5 million purchase price.

The property would be expected to yield as much as $1 million in annual tax revenue, according to a presentation given to the committee.

Supervisor David Bowen, vice chairman of the committee, said he was bothered by the lack of information he received on Wangard Partners’ and HSI’s proposals.

Supervisor Michael Mayo Sr. said he shares that unease and will refuse to vote unless he has more information.

“I’m not going to rubber-stamp nothing,” Mayo said.

Whaley-Smith, who said he would tell supervisors in closed session about the competing proposals, said Opus’ proposal was chosen because it did not have potential zoning problems and did not include a request for tax incremental financing from the city of Milwaukee, unlike the other proposals.

After the meeting, Randall said Wangard Partners had not determined how much public financing it would request but would have been open to altering its proposal.

That willingness to amend, Whaley-Smith said, is why he did not reveal the details of all three responses.

“We don’t want a circumstance where people can come in,” he said, “be privy to other people’s responses and tweak their response.”

Bowen agreed allowing Wangard Partners to resubmit its proposal would not be in the county’s best interest.

“I think that’s unfair,” he said. “That’s not a clear process, and that’s not something, I think, people in the development community would appreciate. Right? Because you’re changing the rules in the middle of the game.”

Randall said Wangard Partners has not decided whether it would challenge the county if the board approves Opus’ proposal.

HSI’s Schultz said he did not have any concerns about the county’s RFP process and believed his firm’s proposal was not chosen because it is significantly smaller than either Wangard’s or Opus’.

Supervisors, Bowen said, will return to the topic Thursday to get more information on the three responses in closed session during the Finance, Personnel and Audit Committee meeting.

After the meeting Thursday, Bowen said, it is possible Wangard Partners’ proposal could go to the full Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors for a vote. But he said he still trusts the judgment in selecting Opus’ proposal.

“Once the information is provided,” he said, “we’ll be able to clearly see the administration made a right move.”

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