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ABB gains Wauwatosa committee's approval

Feb. 27, 2013

The ABB project came closer to reality on a busy night of committee meetings that saw the creation of a separate legal parcel for the site so ownership can be transferred and a full update on the financials of the taxing district that will repay the city for building roads and other infrastructure.

The Community Development Committee on Tuesday approved a land division by certified survey map in the business planned development district at 1425 Discovery Parkway, and approved an amendment to the business planned development to allow ABB to construct a building at Innovation Campus.

To kick off the proceedings, attorney Bruce Block, representing the UWM Real Estate Foundation, which owns the campus, gave a clear rendition of the history of the development, as he has done before. But this time the story, full of reversals, plan modifications and the diminishment of developable land at the site, seemed to bring him near to exasperation.

"We need some breathing space," he said. "We've been buffeted by things out of our control."

The original 89-acre site has been chipped away in the planning process by the state Department of Transportation, a protected butterfly habitat, drainage features and a chunk set aside for residential development. Developable commercial space is now just more than 16 acres.

The UWM Real Estate Foundation deserved credit in the eyes of committee members.

"I can't help but think what a bad deal UWM got out of it," paying for property that turned out to be less than it bargained for, Alderman Bobby Pantuso said. But, "with every punch that is thrown, UWM has rolled with it."

Preservationist Barb Agnew also was full of praise for the developers.

"It's been wonderful working with the ABB group … on this project. They've been very receptive, very interested, and I think responded wonderfully to some of the needs and our hopes for this first part of the project."

"Representatives of ABB have embraced the spirit of the development," Alderman Jason Wilke said.

But Wilke sought to push the developer, Zilber Ltd., a little further, saying that pavers instead of strategically placed porous asphalt, would be a better solution to drainage in the parking lot in front of ABB.

Kevin Mantz of Zilber objected, saying pavers would cost about twice as much per square foot as the porous asphalt.

Still, Wilke offered a "friendly" amendment to require pavers. Pantuso, who had made the original motion to approve the project, wouldn't accept the change, saying the developers had been pushed far enough. Wilke modified his proposal, asking Zilber to continue to explore the use of pavers - not requiring them - and that was approved.

After the Community Development Committee gave way to the Budget & Finance Committee, Finance Director John Ruggini, speaking also for City Attorney Alan Kesner and Development Director Paulette Enders, gave a reassuring update on tax-incremental financing district 6.

Ruggini estimated that the ABB building would have a total property value of $13.58 million, generating $308,153 in annual tax increment revenue. The city has agreed to Zilber's request for city-funded underground parking costing $2.15 million, and Ruggini put the payback period for that at 13.33 years.

He said the $2.15 million represented 15.8 percent of the total project cost, far below the 30 percent the city paid a few years ago for parking for the GE facility, which was the highest percentage of city funding for a private project ever.

Alderman Peter Donegan, while saying he supported the project, said he objected in the strongest terms to city funding of parking, when ABB has revenue of $40 billion and the city figure is $100 million. He objected again, as he has done before, to the long payback period before residents feel any tax benefit.

Several committee members said future projects would face more city resistance to additional payments, such as for parking.

"I think that there's a redemption day coming," Alderman Joel Tilleson said.

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