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Library Block starts to take shape
Plan Commission hears preliminary plans for project
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The Platteville Library Block project for now is a set of drawings on paper or a computer file.

Those drawings are getting more defined.

Two of the people who would be involved in the project, Michael Brush of Plunkett Raysich Architects, LLP of Milwaukee, and Steve Schmitt of Jos. Schmitt Construction of Sheboygan, gave the Platteville Plan Commission a look at progress in the project’s design Monday night.

The Library Block project would replace all the buildings on the block bounded by West Main Street, South Chestnut Street, West Pine Street and South Elm Street with a mixed-use development, including a new Platteville Public Library twice the size of the existing library.

“You need some help downtown to create some tax base,” said Schmitt. “That’s what we’re here to do.”

The project requires city approval, with at least one alderman apparently opposed to how the project is likely to be financed, through Tax Incremental Financing, based on comments made at the meeting.

The Library Block presently includes the library, the Block, Scott & Heenan Law Offices and Block Apartments, the Neighborhood Health Partners clinic, a dance studio, a real estate office, three houses, and a 16-stall parking lot shared by the library and First English Lutheran Church. Block, Scott & Heenan’s building is the former Cunningham Hospital.

The project would replace those buildings with a new 22,000-square-foot library, a hotel to the specifications of the GrandStay Hotels chain, student or multifamily housing, a replacement health clinic, and “traditional retail.” The estimated value of the project is $19 million to $21 million.

The Library Block has five properties for which property taxes are assessed. Those five properties have a combined assessed value of $916,400, and combined annual property tax bills of $20,880.93, according to the City of Platteville’s GIS website and Grant County property tax records. The three tax-exempt properties are the library, the NHP clinic owned by the Southwest Wisconsin Community Action Program, and the parking lot.

At-large Ald. Mike Denn said that the student housing portion of the project wouldn’t be taxable either if a UW–Platteville-connected foundation — either the UW–Platteville Foundation or the UW–Platteville Real Estate Foundation — owned the apartments. Rountree Commons, which is owned by the Real Estate Foundation, makes an annual Payment In Lieu of Taxes.

“What would you prefer?” asked Schmitt.

“I would like to see it function,” said Denn, adding that he didn’t want to use “future tax dollars” to fund the project.

“People are going to say why did you use our tax dollars to build a college dorm.”

The Library Block was added last year to the city’s Tax Incremental Financing District 7. TID 7 is one of two city TIF districts that had deficits in 2012. The TID 7 expansion was made to pay for an estimated $18.07 million in project work.

The TID 7 changes are for an estimated $18.07 million in project work, including $2 million in parking improvements, $1.95 million in street and sewer improvements, and nearly $7 million from redevelopment projects, to add $42.5 million in new property value by 2023, increasing the district’s property value to $72.09 million by 2023. That in turn is estimated to increase the area’s yearly property tax revenue from $64,000 in 2013 to $1.57 million in 2033.

Brush’s design puts the two-story library on the northeast corner, at Main Street and Chestnut Street. A U-shaped apartment building takes up the Pine Street side of the project. The clinic and the office/retail component of the project would be located on Pine Street. The student housing comprises 56 units totaling 164 beds, with the main entrance on Elm Street.

Commission members critiqued locations of the buildings. Commission member Robin Cline thought moving the clinic “closer to campus would make more sense to me.”

Commission member James Winters asked about housing for UW–Platteville professionals instead of students.
Commission member Tom Nall said Platteville has a “vast shortage of housing for professional people.”

“This all started with a discussion about student housing … it still is a mix,” said Schmitt, who added that if an agreement couldn’t be reached with an entity connected to UWP, other housing options could be pursued.

The project is designed in a style Brush described as “transitional … neither modern nor very historic,” with different exterior materials used to make the buildings appear to not be one block-size structure.

The project includes one feature that was not initially thought to be cost-effective — 122 underground parking stalls, with 81 of them dedicated to public use on the first underground level, to go with 24 parking stalls in the courtyard.

The proposal also includes 15 diagonal stalls on Elm Street if Elm was converted to one-way traffic, but Brush said, “It’s not critical.”

At-large Ald. Mike Denn asked if that many spots was enough, and Brush answered by saying the project on which the Library Block project is based, 5th Avenue Live near St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minn., has only one-third of its parking spots used.

Denn said he saw a “real issue of motel people” parking at library spots, as well as UW–Platteville students “sloughing off into other stalls.”

Denn also said the project has no space for expansion of the library, adding that a one-floor library was the first proposal.
Brush said a 20,000-square-foot library, twice the size of the existing library, is “pretty healthy for a community like this. … The density on the rest of the block is paying for the library.”

“If the city feels they need a third floor, we could built in and lease it out” until the space is needed, said Schmitt.