Monday, May 22, 2006

Suburban Socialism

by Tom Bozzo

We're back in Madison, where $2.2 million gets you a much uglier lake house than this Italian Renaissance revival gem on W. Lake of the Isles Parkway.

Irony struck in a big way when I saw the front page of the Wisconsin State Journal. Shorter local developer and candidate for beatification Terrence Wall: "Pass this mandate and we will bury you, provided we get a big subsidy to buy the shovel."

Let's set the way-back machine to last Tuesday's city council session on the sick leave ordinance. From Kristian Knutsen's account, here's a spokesperson for Wall:
A representative of Terrence Wall Properties is the next registrant. His message for the alders is one of economic blackmail. "We're counting on the council tonight to pass the sick leave ordinance as it will increase the value of our properties in Middleton," he says. "Madison is our greatest marketing tool for leasing our properties in Middleton."

Well, ya gotta build 'em first. And if you need to do so by going to the public hat-in-hand, you might as well make it a big hat:
Wisconsin State Journal: $65 million in TIF requested for Middleton development

A developer who wants to build a 24-acre urban neighborhood of housing, retail and office space in Middleton has asked the city for $65 million in public assistance over the project's 10-year span.

The request dwarfs the typical $2 million to $3 million per-project tax incremental financing in Madison, and it is four times larger than Middleton approved for the Greenway Center office project, the city's previous record holder for municipal financial aid.

Middleton officials say they're excited about developer Terrence Wall's proposal but not ready to take a position on it.

Maybe for $65 million Middleton can get Wall to pay for sick leave for the center's retail and restaurant employees.

Slightly more seriously, most of the TIF ($52.5 million) is supposed to "reduce suburban sprawl" by building underground parking ramps on the site. But the site, which is just past the edge of greater Madison's existing development, is itself sprawl. If Middleton wants to spend $52.5 million to reduce sprawl, they could (and arguably should) spend it to encourage infill development on the surface parking lots in the existing edge city to the SSW of the proposed Wall development — which also happens to be approximately where the western terminus of the hypothetical Dane County light rail line would be.

Is that too much of a Madison idea for Middleton? We'll see.

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