Mequon reopens Town Center TIF
Incentive possible for Foxtown plans

By Gary Achterberg

August 21, 2018

MEQUON — The Mequon Common Council cleared the way Wednesday to provide incentives to the developer of the Foxtown project just getting underway in the city’s Town Center.

While their action on a 5-3 vote does not specifically award the incentive, the amendment to the Town Center Tax Incremental Finance District was the step necessary to provide approximately $4.5 million for environmental cleanup and demolition on the 17-acre “blighted” site on the south side of Mequon Road.

Without the TIF amendment, which still must be approved by the other taxing entities in a meeting scheduled for Thursday, the city can make no further TIF expenditures in the district that stretches west on Mequon Road from the initial project at Cedarburg Road.

TIF districts are a development tool. Taxes collected from growth in property value in a TIF district are turned over to a city or village as revenue to pay for improvements it has made to the property. Over the life of the district, other taxing units – schools, the county and technical colleges – only collect taxes on the base value.

In addition to the developer incentive, Wednesday’s action clears the way for the city to improve other public areas in the zone. Those could include “public streetscaping and pedestrian amenities to create a unified and distinct neighborhood,” according to a memo prepared by Community Development Director Kim Tollefson.

Other potential projects include burying utility lines, lighting, landscaping, improvements to the riverfront park on the northeast corner of Mequon and Cedarburg roads and building a trailhead facility along the Ozaukee Interurban Trail, she added.

The eight redeveloped properties in the Town Center TIF are valued at $74.5 million, which is a 1,209-percent increase from the 2007 base value of the properties. The private sector contributed 93.7 percent to the increase in that value. The city’s contribution through incentives was 6.3 percent, according to Tollefson.

While the TIF amendment cleared the Planning Commission unanimously July 23, the Common Council discussion was more contentious.

“The only reason we’re doing this now is because of Foxtown,” said Alderman Brian Schneider, who noted that the project already has started and will occur regardless of whether an incentive is awarded. “They’re just coming back to ask for it because they know they’ll get it.”

Tollefson pushed back.

“I don’t know that’s the case – and you don’t know that’s the case,” she said.

Alderman Mark Gierl said he doesn’t believe the Foxtown project will end if it doesn’t receive an incentive. He argued that even though the Common Council must return and authorize specific expenditures, he has no doubt that will occur.

“There is no end to the wishes that we can come up with,” he said. “We’ll find ways to spend this money. That’s where this is going – and I won’t vote for it.”

Other aldermen argued that amending the TIF is a logical and necessary step to ensure the success of the growing Town Center.

Alderman Rob Strzelczyk said the additional expenditures will properly finish the project.

“When I took office, it was a sinking hole,” he said, adding that the TIF amendment provides “some funding to some final touches on the area. We’ve had a couple great developments that frankly I didn’t think we had an idea could exist.”

Tollefson added that there is no risk to the city with the developer incentives because the project must be built and occupied before any funds are released.

Alderman Andrew Nerbun agreed, noting that the Common Council’s approval simply provides the city “flexibility to pay for things in the future,” including a parking lot on city-owned property west of City Hall. The city sought bids for that lot and rejected them Wednesday because they were significantly higher than anticipated. City staff now will revisit plans for the parking lot, looking for a variety of ways to save money.

“If you vote no on this, you remove the flexibility to do that,” he said. “It’s going to make the City Hall parking lot a Mequon taxpayer problem instead of a TIF problem.

In the end, plans to amend the TIF district passed with the no votes coming from Glenn Bushee, Brian Schneider and Gierl, who cast his vote by saying, “Absolutely not!”

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