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CDA could smooth path to city's growth

Panel would have key responsibilities

March 30, 2011

"We're very, very excited about where economic development is going in Wauwatosa," Robert Simi, chairman of the city's Economic Development Advisory Committee told the Common Council on Tuesday. "We think we're on the cusp of something special here."

But for years, trying to open a business in Wauwatosa has been likened to trying to navigate a maze, with developers bouncing between boards and commissions in search for insight and approvals.

Straightening out that system could be the key to bolstering the city's ability to attract job-producing and tax revenue-producing businesses, Simi said, recommending the creation of a Community Development Authority that could serve as a one-stop shop for developers.

A CDA also would have state-approved authority to negotiate privately about developments involving public lands and public funds, which can be an attractive situation for businesses considering moving to or locating in the city.

But some aldermen said they are worried that creating another entity could just further muddle the process, or that small businesses could get lost in the effort to bring big business to town.

CDA could have broad powers

Wauwatosa's demographics and land parcels make it competitive in the marketplace. Streamlining the approval process will take the city to the next level with developers, others asserted.

"This council is in the position to create the vision of economic development for the next 50 years," Simi said.

Most communities in the Milwaukee metropolitan area already have a CDA to handle complex development issues.

In addition to the ability to negotiate privately, CDAs also can buy and sell property, use eminent domain and offer financing incentives and bond issues. With the number of mixed-use projects - including housing, commercial and retail on the Burleigh Triangle and along State Street in the Village Business Improvement District - expected in coming years, the timing is right to roll the rarely used Housing Authority and Redevelopment Authority groups into a single, more powerful body, EDA committee members said.

There's also a possibility that other tasks now handled by other bodies could become CDA responsibilities. Those include reviewing the need for tax-incremental financing, issuing Community Development Block Grants and other financial assistance handled by the Wauwatosa Revolving Loan Fund.

Upping the level of expertise

The CDA would be made up of seven people - two council members and five people from the business community - appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council. Those chosen would likely have a higher level of expertise in the area of development issues and could provide a more critical review of proposed projects than participants of the existing bodies, City Attorney Alan Kesner said.

A suggestion to create a CDA was outlined by an independent consultant as part of a bigger look at restructuring the city's economic development process.

Alderman Bobby Pantuso likened the strategy to moving toward a one-stop shop for development issues. He questioned whether the city has lost out on development opportunities in the past and if creating a CDA would open more doors. Many residents have heard the rumors of retailers such as Ikea and Trader Joe's showing interest in the area, but no plans have surfaced in or near Wauwatosa, he said.

Councilmen have concerns

A few council members worried that establishing a CDA would add more bureaucracy and red tape to the process.

With Eaton Corp. moving into the Milwaukee County Research Park, Innovation Park coming to the County Grounds and plans for a retail development taking shape at the Burleigh Triangle, the city would be wise to work off that momentum, Alderman Michael Walsh said.

Not losing sight of the small businesses that populate the North Avenue and Village districts is a continuing concern, Alderwoman Linda Nikcevich said.

Bringing in larger projects that increase the tax base will give the city more money to shepherd small businesses, Simi responded.

The committee is expected to provide more specifics on all its recommendations for structure, processes and financial measures in June.

Next Step

WHAT: Community Development Committee will discuss creating a Community Development Authority

WHEN: 8 p.m. April 12

WHERE: City Hall, 7725 W. North Ave.

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