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Local
City staff recommends demolishing Machinery Row buildings
 Patrick Leary  / 
 09.14.17

RACINE — The buildings of the massive development project known as Machinery Row likely will be demolished, after the last effort to save the project in its current form with Gorman & Co. didn’t come to fruition.

At a Wednesday joint meeting of the City Council’s Committee of the Whole and Redevelopment Authority, City Development Director Amy Connolly announced that Gorman, the project’s latest developer, was no longer involved. Gorman “indicated they no longer desire to proceed,” Connolly said, following a study of one of the project’s two core buildings, 900 Water St. Both are former J.I. Case Co. buildings that date back to the early 1900s.

“The structural analysis suggests that there have been changes to this building, caused by either soil failure due to overloading the building with materials on the inside or settlement that may have occurred due to impacts of the soil,” Connolly said.

Given the concerns over the building’s structural integrity, Connolly said that the city hopes to demolish the buildings associated with the project.

“They are likely to be in a condition that even $9 million in tax credits can’t resolve,” Connolly said.

Those historic tax credits are set to expire in July 2018 and were not extended by the State Legislature during its budget process. The credits were originally granted in 2015, but the financial issues of Iowa-based FDP MR LLC, the property’s owner, have put the development on hold.

Demolishing the buildings on the site will lead to the automatic forfeiture of the tax credits, Connolly said.

She added that city staff hopes to conduct a new market study on the project and wants to acquire at least one new development partner for the site in 2018. The city also wants to terminate its relationship with FDP and acquire the parts of the site that company owns.

“We are very sure that this is going to be a national-level development site,” Connolly said. “We could certainly put together a development package that would be very attractive to developers, particularly with this riverfront access.”

In summer 2014, to great fanfare Davenport, Iowa-based Financial District Properties (FDP) announced its intention to redevelop the old Case buildings into loft apartments and commercial spaces.

By the end of that year FDP obtained $9 million in state historic tax credits, one of the essential funding layers to make the project possible.

Over later months and years FDP Managing Owner Rodney Blackwell changed his mind many times about how to redevelop the buildings.

He also ran into large problems with inherited tenants who were storing massive quantities of merchandise in 900 Water St., the larger of the two buildings.

At one point the northernmost section of that building was torn down. In the end, Blackwell essentially walked away from the project, leaving it to the city to develop.

In Gorman, the city had partnered with a developer that had previously done three Downtown Racine projects.

Meeting mostly closed

Wednesday’s meeting opened with a roughly 20-minute presentation begun by City Administrator Jim Palenick and finished by Connolly. In his opening remarks, Palenick said he hoped to keep the closed session section of the meeting short and exclusive to discussion of city legal strategy.

“We want to seek to limit that time in closed session to as little as possible, because ultimately we want to do our question-and-answer to the fullest extent possible in an entirely public fashion,” Palenick said.

But aldermen and members of the RDA didn’t ask many questions in open session; the time between returning from closed session and adjourning the meeting was less than five minutes. The closed session lasted roughly an hour, and city staff and leaders are not legally allowed to discuss what took place.

The only questions asked in open session vaguely referred to what was discussed in closed session and helped set a 60-day timeline for staff to come back with “information on financial and legal obligations of the proposed action.” It’s unclear what action has been proposed.

“I thought that they would have plenty of questions about the historic preservation and why it didn’t work, or the tax credits, or what kind of prospects (there are) for development in the future, or any number of things,” Palenick said. “We expected there would be a lot of that, and apparently there wasn’t any.”


PHOTOS BY JAKE HILL, For The Journal Times  

ABOVE: Charlie Cruce, of the Windy City Dueling Pianos, gestures to the crowd as he and Samuel Wyatt begin their set at Ladies Night Out at Festival Hall Wednesday night in Racine. RIGHT: Ann Stefka of Racine (left), tries on Halloween-themed glasses with friend Cheryl Hanselve of Racine (center), at the Borzynski’s booth with owner Kristin Borzynski on Wednesday night at the Ladies Night Out event at Festival Hall in Racine.

See more photos at www.journaltimes.com/gallery


JAKE HILL, For The Journal Times 

Ann Stefka of Racine (left), tries on Halloween-themed glasses with friend Cheryl Hanselve of Racine (center), at the Borzynski’s booth with owner Kristin Borzynski on Wednesday night at the Ladies Night Out event at Festival Hall in Racine.


Local
Library, bookmobile closed Friday after bedbugs found
 Ama  / 
 09.13.17

RACINE — The Racine Public Library and its bookmobile will be closed Friday after bedbugs reportedly were found.

According to a release from the library, in the past month, two live bedbugs were identified by the Racine Health Department at the Racine Public Library, 75 Seventh St. One bedbug was found in the circulation area and another was located on a returned DVD.

Any materials due on Friday will now be due on Saturday, and bookmobile items will be due on Sept. 22.

To protect staff and public, the library said that it has contracted with Canine Detection & Inspection Services LLC to conduct an inspection of the entire building.

If evidence of bedbugs is found, the library has contracted with Anderson Pest Solutions to aggressively treat the area, both immediately and in follow-up visits.

According to the library, the building must be closed for several hours for these operations.

Bedbugs can be found in hotels, hospitals, nursing homes and movie theaters.

According to the press release, bedbugs are not related to being homeless but are a traveling population problem, meaning those who travel more are more likely to bring bedbugs with them. Bedbugs do not carry or transmit diseases.

The library screens for evidence of bedbugs every month.


Local
Assembly passes budget including Unified secession provision
 Ricardo Torres  / 
 09.14.17

MADISON — The 2017-19 biennial budget was supposed to be passed in June, and on Wednesday the State Assembly debated the budget late into the night.

As of 9:45 p.m. at press time, the Assembly had not officially passed the state budget. Later that evening, after 10 p.m., the assembly passed the budget.

Assembly members argued about, for example, taxes and how the state should fund transportation infrastructure and education.

One of the key issues in the budget affects Racine Unified School District and was receiving a significant amount of discussion on the Assembly floor.

Currently the district is facing the prospect of receiving another failing grade from the Department of Public Instruction. If it does fail again this fall, it could have major consequences for the future through the implementation of the Opportunity Schools and Partnership Program.

Under that program if a school district receives a failing grade from the state two years in a row, a commissioner is appointed to create a separate district for the failing schools and also allow for area villages to go to referendums to start their own districts.

Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, introduced nearly a dozen amendments, all of which failed, regarding the Opportunity Schools Partnership Program in an effort delay a study from the state and the chance for villages to secede from Unified.

Mason urged the Assembly to vote on an amendment that would allow a study that would look specifically at the impact that villages breaking away from Unified would have on minority students.

“We have a constitutional responsibility to adequately educate each child,” Mason said. He added the OSPP could separate the students in the district into “the haves and the have-nots.”

In remarks on the floor, Mason said policy items such as the one about Unified should not be included in the budget. He said the OSPP could segregate white students from minorities, along with segregating affluent students from poor students.

Mason said what is being proposed “is about as disruptive a thing as you can do to the Racine Unified School District.

“Even if you don’t intend for that to be the case, what you are proposing here today is a new era of segregation,” Mason said.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, criticized Mason’s comments. He charged that his speech was part of his mayoral campaign, as he is running for Racine mayor and has a primary election on Tuesday.

Rep. Tom Weatherston, R-Caledonia, said the legislation on OSPP is “not a racial issue — this is a taxpayer issue.”

In August, the Joint Finance Committee passed a provision that would delay the OSPP for one year. However, if the district fails this fall, DPI will commission a study that will evaluate the impact it would have on the district if villages such as Caledonia, Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant break from Unified to form their own districts.

Unified has been pushing legislators to delay the study for one year and delay referendums as the district attempts to improve its standing.

Other budget points

The budget would provide additional funding to Unified by $4 million in this school year and $8.2 million in 2018-19 school year. That’s not including any additional aid the district may receive through the school funding formula.

In an effort to help veterans, particular those who utilize the Wisconsin Veterans Home at Union Grove, 21425 Spring St., the budget would provide $53,943 in grants to help operate that facility.

The heavy rains that hit the City of Burlington in July exposed some infrastructure deficiencies. The budget would provide $50,000 to the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission during 2017-18 fiscal year to conduct a stormwater management study for that city.

The study would look at the location and destination of current stormwater flows, identify city property or private property that have stormwater capacity issues and provide recommendations to eliminate flooding at several of the city’s major businesses.

‘Robin Hood in reverse’

Vos championed the work done by the Joint Finance Committee, saying it’s a win for both Republicans and Democrats and also includes a roughly $200 million “rainy day fund.”

However, Vos said the budget is “not perfect,” particularly when it comes to transportation and taxes.

“Our tax code needs a major overhaul,” Vos said. “We still know our education funding formula needs updating.”

Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, whose district includes part of southeastern Racine County, said the budget will favor the wealthiest in the state and could impact working-class families.

“We have one of the most diminished middle classes in the entire nation,” Barca said from the Assembly floor. “This budget is rigged against the working people of the state.”

Barca said the budget is “Robin Hood in reverse,” and it’s possible it doesn’t have the votes for passage by the State Senate.

But, Barca did agree with Vos, saying he is “right on target” regarding how the budget doesn’t fully address transportation in the state

Barca said he appreciates Interstate 94 funding in Kenosha County, but it could create problems for people in other parts of the state.

“The problem is there’s virtually no resources for anyone else in the state,” Barca said. “Over the next two years our roads are going to get far worse.”