A modified plan for redeveloping the Eschweiler Campus on the County Grounds presented Wednesday night offers a different look to the finished project but still calls for taking down three buildings and saving one.
But while new design features were the focus of an informational presentation to the Wauwatosa Historical Preservation Commission, the real revelation was that the developer, Mandel Group, would need city tax district financing in order to preserve and restore even that one building.
Barry Mandel, president of the firm, first announced in May that to make a residential redevelopment of the Eschweilers and grounds profitable, he would have to demolish three buildings. Then and since, he has made preservation of the largest structure, the Administration Building, the historic centerpiece of the project.
At a second presentation in June, Mandel offered details on the his proposed use of the Administration Building and indicated that his firm would bear the cost of restoring it.
But Wednesday, Mandel and his project leader, Phil Aiello, said that it would take $2.5 million in funding from a tax incremental financing district to proceed with the building's restoration.
While Mandel Group would, in effect, "subsidize" the building's preservation by giving up the value of the land it stands on, forgoing any profitable use within it, and paying to maintain it in the future, the upfront "hard costs" of restoration would have to come from the city, to be repaid through the TIF over its lifetime.
TIFs not typically used to support such projects
The Eschweiler Campus is covered by two overlapping Wauwatosa TIF districts, No. 2 and No. 6.
City Administrator Jim Archambo said Thursday that Mandel has not made a formal request for TIF funds for rehabbing the Administration Building, but should he, there would be a number of steps involved.
"First, there are criteria they would have to meet to be TIF-eligible under state law," Archambo said. "Typically, TIF funds are used for infrastructure such as roads and utilities. I've seen them used for parking ramps and detention basins – that's not rare but less common.
"Whether historic preservation qualifies for that, I don't know and would have to look into."
If the proposed use were eligible, Archambo said, next the city would do a "TIF assessment" to see whether the costs to the district would be supported by the project – whether Mandel's apartment development would generate profits sufficient to repay the city's investment.
Third, the city would assess whether the proposal was "bond eligible" – that is, Archambo said, "Will it last at least for the life of the bonds?" No bonds have yet been issued on TIF No. 6, Archambo said, but the city typically bonds for a maximum of 10 years.
Finally, Archambo said, the request likely would require a "TIF plan amendment," because such a proposal was not part of the original plan approval of either TIF district.
Funding request would require an amendment
The TIF District No. 2 was created to pay for infrastructure in Milwaukee County Research Park, but it was extended to include the Eschweiler Campus.
City borrowing against that TIF went to the roads and utilities in Research Park, to be repaid when the TIF is retired in 2015.
Archambo said it was "possible in theory but not really practicable" for any TIF No. 2 funds to go to Mandel because planning has already been long under way for closing out that district's funds.
A more likely source would be TIF No. 6, which the city created in 2010 to pay for infrastructure on the 89-acre economic development zone that includes UWM's Innovation Park project and the Eschweiler Campus.
That TIF, capped at $12 million, was intended to pay for Discovery Parkway, the city street that will serve as the access route through the area, as well as side roads and utilities throughout, including those that would serve the Eschweiler Campus.
There has been no previous public discussion of using TIF No. 6 funds for any of the Eschweiler buildings themselves. Archambo said that such a request would almost certainly trigger the need for a TIF plan amendment.
As a rule, municipal TIF funds are not used to directly support private development itself, only the public infrastructure that serves it.
Mandel noted Wednesday and in his June presentation that two-thirds of the space in the Administration Building would be for public uses, which might serve to qualify it for TIF assistance.
Under Mandel's proposal, the second floor of the building would include three offices for use by non-profit charitable organizations, as well as public meeting rooms. The third floor, formerly the Agriculture School gymnasium, would be come a conference or event room for larger gatherings.
Mandel could not be reached Thursday for comment on this story.
Cost of 'garden walls' plan for 2 buildings unknown
The design changes offered Wednesday by Mandel focused on the Dairy and Dormitory buildings, which stand along the west side of the Eschweiler Campus quadrangle.
Instead of being taken down to the ground, as initially proposed, they would be taken down to their lower walls, at 7½ feet, which would remain as enclosures for English gardens. Arched doorways and fireplaces would also remain as taller features showing some of the aspects of architect Alexander Eschweiler's work.
These walled gardens would "memorialize" Eschweiler and the historic nature of the campus, originally the Milwaukee County School of Agriculture and Domestic Economy, and would be open to public use.
However, Mandel and Aiello said that they did not yet know what the cost of the partial demolitions would be and implied that going ahead with that plan would depend on the estimate they receive.
Mandel's latest plan also calls for a private swimming pool for the use of residents of the development, which in the design drawings would lie immediately west of and parallel with the Administration Building.
Mandel and Aiello said that the pool was an amenity that would help attract tenants willing to pay high enough rents to make the development profitable.