Several Milwaukee Common Council members, in opposing both spending city money on a proposed extension of the city’s streetcar line and the reappointment of the Department of City Development commissioner, say they are not satisfied with what they see as a lack of development outside downtown.
City officials voted 11-4 on Wednesday to provide $20 million worth of tax-increment financing money to the planned streetcar extension, which would give the project a stop near the new arena being built for the Milwaukee Bucks. Work on the streetcar, which will run in a loop downtown before being given routes leading to other neighborhoods, is expected to get underway soon.
Meanwhile, a proposal to reappoint Rocky Marcoux to his current position as commissioner of the Department of City Development initially failed on an 8-5 vote (two council members abstained.) Rather than shut Marcoux out of another four-year term, though, council members sent the matter back to a lower committee for reconsideration.
The opponents of the streetcar extension and Marcoux’s reappointment largely cited the same reason for their votes: concern about a lack of development outside downtown Milwaukee.
“We’re becoming a tale of two cities: downtown and the rest of the city of Milwaukee,” said Alderman Mark Borkowski, explaining his opposition to the streetcar extension. “I think that I speak (for) all of us that I’m ecstatic that there’s all of this wonderful growth downtown. However … where is the help, where is the assistance, where is the cooperation for the rest of the city?”
Alderman Tony Zielinski, who was perhaps the most vocal opponent Wednesday of Marcoux’s reappointment, said the city could not wait another several weeks for a decision. He said Milwaukee has one of the highest unemployment rates for black men in the U.S.
Zielinski further suggested the department has mishandled development opportunities in the past. He said the city six or seven years ago bungled an attempt to attract a manufacturer of lithium ion batteries.
“Due to the mishandling, I believe very strongly … that Milwaukee lost a tremendous opportunity,” he said.
Among the remaining council members, Alderman Jim Bohl led the charge to have the council reconsider its decision to strike down Marcoux’s reappointment and instead have the matter sent back to the city’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee. Bohl serves as chairman of that committee.
Bohl said striking down Marcoux’s reappointment would sow uncertainty at the Department of City Development.
“If you don’t have a game plan in place, I think it would be foolish to literally just pull the plug here today,” he said at Wednesday’s Common Council meeting. “I think that, again, we should weigh our options and the best way to do that is to vote (in favor of) the motion for reconsideration.”
Alderman Cavalier Johnson said even though he voted to reconsider Marcoux’s reappointment, he thinks development is lacking both in his district and other places north of downtown Milwaukee.
Praise for Marcoux, meanwhile, came from Alderman Russell Stamper, who said he has worked well with the development commissioner on efforts to increase employment in the inner city.
Marcoux got his first city job in 1986, starting at the Housing Authority, an agency that provides public housing to residents. He became commissioner of the Department of City Development in 2004.
At a previous committee hearing, Marcoux said the recent development boom in downtown would be shared with nearby neighborhoods in a number of ways. He pointed to the city’s resident-hiring program, which is meant to ensure that developments benefiting from city money provide jobs to underemployed and unemployed city residents.
Still, critics note that the projects are concentrated in a relatively small area. The $124 million streetcar project, for instance, is to start with a 2.1-mile loop in the city’s downtown, which will quickly be followed by a 0.4-mile extension bringing the line to Milwaukee’s lakefront.
The separate extension approved for TIF financing on Wednesday would let the streetcar travel north along parts of 4th and 5th streets until it reached North 4th Street’s junction with Highland Avenue, not far from where the new Bucks arena is going up.
The second extension has an estimated price of $40 million; half of the needed money would be come from the TIF and the rest from federal grants.
TIF districts generally work by capturing taxes generated by property appreciation or new development in a particular area and setting the money aside to finance public works projects in the same place.
Of the $20 million the city has committed to the streetcar’s second extension, part is to come from a TIF district being established at a 2-acre plot lying near where North 4th Street and Wisconsin Avenue meet. City officials recently issued a request for proposals seeking a company to redevelop that site.
Additional money for the extension is to come from two existing TIF districts.Follow @alexzank