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Wauwatosa's Eschweiler buildings continue to pose a conundrum

A former administration building, one of four remaining buildings designed by Alexander Eschweiler that are held by the Univeristy of Wisconsin Real Estate Trust, stands solid but in disrepair and vandalized on the Milwaukee County Grounds.

A former administration building, one of four remaining buildings designed by Alexander Eschweiler that are held by the Univeristy of Wisconsin Real Estate Trust, stands solid but in disrepair and vandalized on the Milwaukee County Grounds. Photo By C.T. Kruger

Jan. 23, 2013

A consultant said Tuesday that there is no way to rehabilitate even one Eschweiler building without spending public money.

"Based on review, it's reasonable to assume public participation would be required to rehabilitate existing buildings," said Mikaela Huot of Springsted Inc.

The Common Council, meeting as a committee of the whole, heard presentations from Huot, Finance Director John Ruggini and City Administrator Jim Archambo in a three-hour meeting.

The meeting provided some reassurance on the status of the tax-incremental financing district that is helping pay city costs for the development of Innovation Park, especially in light of the recent commitment by ABB Inc. to build a $13.5 million facility there.

"Value from ABB ensures debt coverage on Discovery Parkway," said Ruggini.

But the future of the Eschweiler buildings seemed no closer to resolution at the end of the meeting than when it started.

Huot laid out the numbers. To rehabilitate all five buildings at the site (four are Eschweilers), and make them into 41 rental units, and build 168 rental units in new construction, would cost $46.1 million, with a public financing gap of $6.6 million.

Despite their size, the Eschweilers would yield less than 10 units per building because of the placement of structural walls, said Phil Aiello, of Mandel Corp., which is proposing to develop the residential portion of the park. In residential development, efficiency - gross square feet divided by usable square feet - is key, Aiello said. The Eschweilers come in at 50 percent, while new construction would yield more than 80 percent.

Springsted's second task was to consider saving just the biggest of the Eschweilers, the Administration Building, and build 192 new rental units. Huot said this option would cost $41.7 million, with a $2.5 million public financing gap. She noted that the "developer won't proceed on rehabilition without public participation or other financing."

Ruggini noted that Mandel had not made a formal proposal, and that no public assistance had been requested. He used a power point presentation to show that TIF funding could be used to pay these costs. The Eschweiler buildings lie in two TIF districts.

But the patience of some has worn thin.

"This report tonight, in my opinion, (says) these thing have to come down," said Alderman Brian Ewerdt.

Alderman Bobby Pantuso was similarly affected.

"I have to say, short of a miracle, I don't see much of an alternative. … Those buildings are a wreck."

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