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Wauwatosa's East Tosa businesses clash over BID

Aug. 13, 2014

As one group of property owners in East Tosa hopes to establish a business improvement district to promote and enhance North Avenue, another is trying to stop it, worried about anadditional charge on their property tax bills.

At a public hearing Monday night, the opposition was louder, but the Wauwatosa Plan Commission approved the East Tosa BID's preliminary operating plan.

The BID also will need approval from the Budget and Finance Committee and the Common Council. That gives the opposition time to either try to work out a compromise, as Plan Commission members called on them to do, or totally shut it down with an objection petition.

Stretching from 60th Street to Wauwatosa Avenue, the district would include a property with a total taxable assessed value of about $32.8 million. Property owners in the district would have to pay $3.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, with a $550 annual minimum and $5,000 maximum. Residences and non-profits would be exempt.

Volunteers 'exhausted'

With a 2015 operating budget of about $110,000, the BID would spend about $57,000 on staff and administrative expenses, $27,000 on banners and street furniture, and $26,000 for marketing.

Proponents say the BID is necessary to continue the work volunteers with the East Tosa Alliance have done to brand the area and grow businesses.

"We've got a lot of people who are exhausted from volunteering right now," said Brent Nistler, an attorney who works on North Avenue and helped write the BID petition. "This will put in a permanent structure to make sure North Avenue continues to grow and expand."

Alderman Joel Tilleson credited Meg Miller of the alliance and other volunteers for helping to recruit the North Avenue Grill, Bel Aire Cantina, Red Dot, Camp Bar and Juniper 61 to the area.

"They can't do it anymore," he said. "They're stretched too thin."

The East Tosa Alliance also was recently accepted into the Connect Communities Program of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which provides resources and training materials for developing commercial corridors.

Alliance President Maya Romboy said even if the BID does not work out, the Alliance will be backing off of its roles in business recruitment and marketing, although it would continue its special events. She and Miller supported the BID as a way to carry forth the group's momentum with paid staff and a budget for improvements.

Several business owners backed the idea Monday.

"It's our turn to come forward and do this or it's not going to happen," said Melanie Landgraf, owner of Tosa Yoga.

Price tag divides businesses

The special charge on property owners, which would appear on property tax bills, was the center of opposition to the BID at Monday's public hearing.

Edward Kwaterski, owner of Rimfire Properties, said while he did think the area could use improvements, he didn't think a BID was the solution.

"I'd much rather have that money in my pocket to do the improvements I want to do in my building," Kwaterski said. "Nor do I want to pass on additional costs to my tenants."

The plan could be stopped in its tracks if businesses collect opposing signatures from owners representing at least 40 percent of the assessed value in the district.

Russ Drover, who owns several properties in the village and has opposed the BID there as well, said he has already collected 14 signatures. Although he doesn't own property on North Avenue, he said he is against the East Tosa BID on principal.

The properties that would pay the most, more than $4,000, include McDonald's, BMO Harris Bank, the Lutheran Home, and 7212 W. North Ave., where Thai-Namite plans to replace the former Fattoni's.

Carey Bartlett, vice president of client relations at the Lutheran Home, said the organization fully supports the BID.

"I think just overall having a stronger neighborhood will make for a stronger community and benefit everyone in the long run — our residents and our staff," Bartlett said.

But Pete Venturi, who owns 7212 W. North Ave., spoke in opposition to the plan Monday. He took issue with property owners being charged based on their assessed value, saying it should be based on how many feet on their buildings face North Avenue.

"I just can't pass it on to my tenants," Venturi said. "There's no way I can afford another tax."

Plan Commissioner Jody Lowe also wondered if properties should be charged based on other factors, such as type of use. Some property owners argued their office tenants wouldn't benefit as much as retailers that depend on foot traffic.

"Clearly there are going to be some businesses that are going to benefit from this, and the difficulty is the really mixed nature of North Avenue," Lowe said.

Susie Brkich, owner of Cranky Al's, said the BID organizers are willing to come to the table.

"I see a lot of really angry faces here," Brkich said Monday. "Many of you I adore but I would have liked to have seen you in the planning stages for all of this. We're here to discuss, not to fight."

The Budget and Finance Committee may consider the proposal at a meeting Sept. 16.

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