Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tosa Commits To Funding UWM Complex; Private Sector Cash Still Needed

Wauwatosa's Common Council has agreed to loan UWM and a still-to-be-firmed-up business innovation center millions in local dollars for infrastructure investment that will turn 80 some acres of land at the County Grounds into a workable site.

The plan also will restore some decaying historic buildings on the site and save some Monarch butterfly migration habitat - - but in no way preserves the integrity of the County Grounds, a major portion of what remains of land in the public domain in the most urbanized county in Wisconsin.

Tom Daykin has the details.

This is one of those complex deals wherein private dollars are promised to supplement initial city dollars and then UW system funds so that another public entity - - cash-poor Milwaukee County - - can sell some land and plug the cash into its leaky treasury.

In other words, taxpayers are playing the central role, through, yes, government.

Remember this the next time you hear of any Milwaukee's private sector leaders or politicians bashing "big government," or funding candidates (I'm thinking of you, Scott Walker, (R-Wauwatosa)), who regularly call for less government, lower taxes and a freed-up market-driven economy.

The feds have already come through with $5+ million to help get the project off the ground, but what is still lacking is the private sector commitment - - this after philanthropist Michael Cudahy took his bat and ball and went home when UWM would not let him call the shots and guide the construction of the headquarters for the emerging UWM School of Freshwater Science on the former Pieces of Eight restaurant site next to his Pier Wisconsin museum.

Wauwatosa is willing to take the risk that property tax growth on the project will, after 27 years, repay the loan, with interest, that will net out at $18 million.

But of more immediate concern is whether the UW system will release the money needed to put up the engineering school expansion on the site, and whether, or in what form, the business community will pony up the $5 million investment for the innovation center that flew away when Cudahy withdrew his support.

If the business development connections and job growth upon which this entire project rest are indeed in place near the site, the private sector dollars should emerge rather quickly - - and with more certainty than, say, the commitment recently abandoned by Harley-Davidson to add office space near its museum in the Menomonee Valley that was part of the motorcycle firm's museum construction assistance deal with Milwaukee city taxpayers.

Time will tell, and while we're waiting let's give government a hand for making the Tosa project a reality.

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