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Wauwatosa panel OKs $2.5M for Mandel Eschweiler apartments

Oct. 9, 2013

The city's Budget and Finance Committee approved $2.5 million in city funding for The Mandel Group's proposed 192-unit apartment complex surrounding the Eschweiler buildings at Innovation Campus, bringing the project a significant step closer to groundbreaking.

The funding was approved on a 5-2 vote, with Aldermen Tim Hanson and Brian Ewerdt voting "no." The measure awaits Common Council approval.

The city funding would pay for underground parking at the site, and the city would be reimbursed through increased property tax collections as the site gains value. The apartment complex is expected to add $20 million in assessed valuation. The apartments will have the highest rents in Wauwatosa, the Mandel Group has said.

Alderman Peter Donegan, who had been an outspoken opponent of city funding for the project, said he reluctantly supported the funding after being convinced, in closed session, that the tax-incremental financing district encompassing the project could fail, which would impact the city's general fund.

Donegan said he was told by city staff that a delay in providing the funding risks a significant cost to the general fund, "which would be devastating." City budget meetings have been held under the specter of a possible reduction in city services in 2015 under state-imposed levy limits.

Alderman Craig Wilson, who heads the committee, said he supports the measure, and urged his colleagues to view approval as benefiting the apartment complex itself, not as a vote for or against preserving the Eschweiler buildings, or a vote supporting the Forest Exploration Center, which is seeking funding to preserve and use the Eschweiler buildings for its University Lab School.

If sufficient FEC funding doesn't materialize within a year from groundbreaking, The Mandel Group plans to preserve just the largest of the buildings, reducing two others to walled gardens, and razing the fourth.

The motion to approve the financing included a clause that requires city staff to craft a development agreement for council consideration. The development agreement would include language that requires the Forest Exploration Center to enter into "an operational agreement on terms acceptable to the Wauwatosa School District," or words to that effect — a clause suggested by Alderman Dennis McBride.

The school district and the FEC's University Lab School, a charter school seeking endorsement by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, are holding discussions to create an agreement on how they could work together.

Attorney Bruce Block, who represents the UWM Real Estate Foundation, which owns Innovation Campus, said the apartment development was important to the larger campus development, which is "getting tremendous traction," and has "discussions going on with a lot of interested parties."

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