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Guest opinion: Redevelop the developer agreement

POSTED February 17, 2017 8:50 a.m.

In view of the tight budget the City of Platteville is facing, I have come to the conclusion that the proposed former Pioneer Ford Sales development agreement needs extensive revision to provide more benefits to taxpayers, less risk to the city and to make the apartment complex more inviting as a place to live.

The proposed development agreement states that the City of Platteville will demolish all the buildings on the property (except for the Pioneer Ford building) and sell the entire property to the developer for $1. Further, the city is to provide direct financial assistance to the developer in the amount of $1.3 million in exchange for a developer-guaranteed real estate tax payment starting in 2019 and thereafter. The city paid Pioneer Ford $982,426 for the property. Additional expenses bring the present costs to slightly more than $1 million.

I do not think that the proposed development agreement is a wise use of taxpayer monies. Therefore I am proposing:

•                The city sells the Pioneer Ford property to the developer for $500,000 minus the 43-stall parking lot and the Gates Hotel. (The city received a $500,000 grant to help pay for the property).

•                If the developer agrees to buy the property for $500.000 and build underground parking for 50 vehicles, the city will provide funding in the amount of $500,000 to help build the underground parking.

•                The proposed agreement asks that the city sell the developer the cleared lot except for the Pioneer Ford building itself for $1 plus an additional $400,000 and $900,000 to proceed with the development as previously mentioned. The city is being asked to give too much funding toward the total cost of this project. Total project cost is estimated at $11,455,000 (estimate dated April 2016).

In 2004 the city created a financial incentive program to encourage more residential developments by providing funds to cover up to 25 percent of the cost of the infrastructure (water, sewer, etc.) needed for the residential projects. A total of $600,000 was divided among four projects with the amounts per project ranging from $58,378 to $308,555.

Recently the City of Platteville provided a $100,000 grant to a developer that aided in the development of an apartment complex having 34 units resulting in providing 92 beds. The proposed Pioneer Ford redevelopment project will have 71 total units resulting in 147 beds. Both apartment complexes will provide affordable housing. Notice the difference in funding. The city is becoming overly involved in the tenant rental market. If the units in the Pioneer Ford project do not fill well in the years ahead, the city may be asked to accept a lower real estate tax payment due to lower income from rents.

•                I believe the city should retain ownership of the 43-stall parking lot at Oak and Pine streets. The tenants of the apartment complex should have first option to rent spaces if the apartment complex cannot meet its parking needs. Unused parking spaces would be available for the needs of the Main Street area.

•                The city should retain ownership of the Gates Hotel. The issue of restoration vs. demolition has not been well studied. It is not crucial that the hotel be part of the total project. The removal of the hotel and the addition of 15 parking spaces is not an issue important to the success of the Pioneer Ford project. There is little benefit to the City of Platteville if the hotel is demolished. Parking spaces return little in taxes, City costs would be expensive for demolition of the building and filling of the basement, plus an important structure in Platteville’s history is gone. There has been little mention of the tourism value of retaining the hotel. Platteville should follow the example of Potosi, Galena and Dubuque in using historic buildings to add to their economy.

The Historic Preservation Commission met Feb. 7 to learn about the status and condition of the Gates Hotel. Commission member Garry Prohaska had invited historic architect Adam Johnson and developer Toben Murdock to this meeting. Both have extensive experience working with historic restoration projects. Murdock was unable to attend due to another commitment. Please see the front page of The Journal Feb. 8 for its article about Murdock’s interest in restoring the Gates Hotel.

Johnson said he was one of five individuals who bought the old Potosi brewery and worked on its restoration. Johnson’s assessment of the condition of the Gates Hotel was “best shape of any historic building, likely in top 25 percent, very strong, doesn’t see a whole lot of damage, fairly pristine shape, and some window changes are needed”.

The commission passed a motion made by Paul Mariskanish and seconded by Tammy Black to submit the historic designation application form and information to the state. Others at the meeting included staff members Joe Carroll and Ric Riniker, Tracy Roberts, Common Council president Eileen Nickels and Ken Kilian.

Underground parking should be an essential part of the developmental agreement. The addition of at least 50 underground parking spaces would help greatly to meet the parking needs of the apartment complex tenants.

The developer has stated that each underground parking space costs $22,000. The parking structure would serve as part of the base for the apartment complex. The contribution by the City of $500,000 would help in the construction of these parking spaces. The benefits of an underground parking structure include better use of lot footage and sheltered parking.

The Common Council passed late last year a budget short on funding for many items. Street construction, purchase of equipment, salaries and wages, reduction in funds for museums, less for the senior center and elimination of money for the Rountree Gallery are among the many items in the list. The predicted budget amounts for some of these items are even less for 2018. 

A number of letters to the editor have appeared in The Journal about the cuts to the museums and the senior center. Therefore, I firmly believe that the proposed development agreement for the Pioneer Ford property should be modified to give more benefit to the City of Platteville and its taxpayers.

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