Mayor: Alternative plan for Pabst needed
Oconomowoc — The most crucial thing for the city to focus on is the Pabst Farms development, Mayor Maury Sullivan said in his State of the City address Thursday, Sept. 17, at the Chamber of Commerce's annual breakfast at Olympia.
The mayor recognized the magnitude of change in the retail market today, citing store closings across the country - 100 for Ann Taylor, more than 900 for Blockbuster.
"We can stick with the plan, or we can recognize the changing events," the mayor said. "I have evolved in my own thinking that the city has to move from the original plan and consider other alternatives."
Though he added that he's not yet speaking as to what the "other alternatives" are, the point is the city needs to move from the model in place, he said. "We need to have flexibility for the changing conditions," Sullivan said.
Representatives from Developers Diversified Realty (DDR) were also invited to the breakfast. DDR Development Vice President Dan Herman said that as the city looks at the development, it must consider the proposed Town Centre in relation to the entire development.
"We can't tell you who's going to be there because the landscape has changed so dramatically," Herman said, noting that lending from banks is inactive.
Beyond the Pabst Farms Town Centre, the mayor also identified two other areas of significant importance for the city: the Fowler Lake waterfront and a future community center and expansion of City Beach.
"Downtown can be ignored, or we can do something," the mayor said.
He said that the strategy to revitalize the Fowler Lake promenade is not cheap or completed in a year. The project, estimated at $15 million, is not intended to be funded by the city's general tax roll, Sullivan said. Instead, the project, which is expected to span a decade, would be paid for out of tax incremental financing district No. 4.
The only thing hinging on the potential for payment is the lack of support TIF 4 is receiving. On Sept.1, the Common Council approved a two-year extension of the $5 million note for TIF No. 4, which will mature Oct. 1 and needs $8 million worth of development downtown to generate enough increment to pay it back. Unless TIF No. 4 begins to receive support, the city will not be able to feed off of it.
The city has acquired two properties at the entrance of downtown that Sullivan said he hopes will sell and be redeveloped soon to begin to fuel TIF No. 4 funds. However, he also warned residents to balance their appetite for development with their ability to pay for it. Noting the city's history of having a low tax levy - currently the fifth lowest in the state - Sullivan said that in light of the current situation, the city has an aggressive agenda. "What impact will that have, taxwise?" he asked.
A study of alternatives for a new community center and expansion of City Beach by Parks and Recreation Board members lists construction of a new center at Worthington Street and West Wisconsin Avenue as its top priority. The plan also calls for expansion of City Beach by acquiring property to the west and relocating the boat launch on the existing site. The estimated cost for this is $8.23 million. The council expects to review the recommendation in October.
One way to attract new development could be through the construction of a stop in the city for the proposed high-speed rail.
"Some are doubtful it will be here, and I think all the signs are it will be here," Sullivan said.
The construction of a rail stop downtown, which could see up to five trains daily, could be attractive to developers, Sullivan suggested.
"Think what the interstate has brought," he said.
For now, the mayor said the city's tax levy would not increase and would remain the same as last year, based on budget studies he has done with staff so far. But in his speech, more than once the mayor warned, "If you want things, it somehow has to be paid for."
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