City leaders see a financial crisis in their future — a day about a year or so away when they will be forced to decide not whether to cut city services, but which ones have to go.
Pointing to reductions in city employment, slow growth in wages, reductions in benefit costs, the expanding use of LED lighting in city buildings, automated refuse collection and other efficiencies, "we have pretty much picked all of the low-hanging fruit," City Administrator James Archambo told the Common Council last week.
But Archambo and other city leaders see hope in development. By planting more value on city land, the city can collect more property tax, and, hopefully, preserve the services it offers.
"I see development as a way to satisfy many of our challenges," Archambo said.
Three sites with potential
In a presentation to the council, Archambo challenged the conventional wisdom that says Wauwatosa is built-out. He cited three examples of vacant or underused property totaling almost 100 acres, and made an argument for mixed-use, high-density development on those sites.
The J.C. Penny property at 11800 W. Burleigh St. is the largest of the sites, at almost 74 acres. The land is assessed at $22.8 million, and will pay the city $162,000 in 2014 property tax.
With a big apartment complex on it, maybe something like a larger, more expansive version of The Enclave, Archambo sees the site's property value increasing tenfold, to $221 million, and its local property tax bill jumping to $1.58 million.
A second example is the vacant Harley-Davidson site, at almost 22 acres. The property is assessed at $6.7 million and pays city property tax of $47,700. Archambo envisions a high-density development on the site, raising its value by a factor of five, to $32.49 million, and its city tax bill rising to $231,400.
His third example is the Russ Darrow car dealership site, a little less than 5 acres at 1901 N. Mayfair Road. It's worth about $3.83 million and pays local tax of $27,300. Archambo sees its developed value at $28.5 million and contribution to city coffers at $345,000.
Mapping out a future
These are speculative values based on hoped-for projects, but Archambo has a list of almost two dozen properties that he calls "current projects and leads."
The list includes some well-known projects — Innovation Campus, the planned Meijer store, Nordstrom at Mayfair mall, Mayfair Collections at the Burleigh Triangle, the apartment project planned by Wangard Partners off State Street, and a few others sites and potential developments.
What many of them have in common is that they require demolition, remediation and structured parking to make them work. To compete with the green fields of Menomonee Falls, Wauwatosa has to contribute to the cleanup, Archambo has said.
He proposed mapping out a "high density overlay" within the city's comprehensive plan, showing "strategic areas where mixed-use buildings containing both residential and community facilities are encouraged"; and creating a clear economic development investment policy that spells out when and under what circumstances the city will offer financing assistance.
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