Would you, after agreeing to sell a property at a given price, agree to reduce that price when a broker for the buyer came back to you a couple of years later and said it might be difficult to make the next mortgage payment?
And might you do so if, by chance, you had some long-term investment in the successful outcome of that sale, rather than just walking away from it?
That was the difficult position a delegation from Wauwatosa found itself arguing Monday when it went before a Milwaukee County Board committee to suggest that UWM's difficulties in selling the Eschweiler Campus on the County Grounds might call for a reduction in the agreed-to selling price of the land.
City Administrator Jim Archambo, Economic and Community Development Director Paulette Enders and Ald. Brian Ewerdt appeared before the county's Economic and Community Development Committee.
After a presentation last Tuesday in a meeting of the Wauwatosa Common Council's Committee of the Whole, in which dire uncertainties about the future of the UWM Innovation Campus plan were raised, the city took the unusual step of acting as intermediary for the university with the county.
Archambo suggested that it was in everybody's best interest that the whole Innovation Campus plan succeed – and implied that without cooperation by everyone involved, it might not.
The county stands to receive a large and perpetual portion of property tax revenue from a successful Innovation Campus public-private project. The county's share of all property taxes collected by Wauwatosa is about 20 percent.
That will be far more in the long haul, the city argues, than the county would receive directly from the sale of the land – and certainly far more than the county or anybody will receive if UWM can't make it's next payment on the property and everything reverts to... nothing.
The UWM Real Estate Foundation in 2009 agreed to pay the county about $13.5 million for the 89-acre tract on the County Grounds, on a schedule through 2018. The first payment of $5 million was made, and a second of the same amount is due in February 2014.
Besides selling off parts of the property to private technology firms – UWM recently announced its first tenant, ABB of New Berlin – the university's real estate arm is trying to sell the Eschweiler Campus to Mandel Group for $4 million.
But under the sale agreement, only 25 percent of land sales proceeds go to UWM, with 75 percent going to the county, Ald. Ewerdt said. So UWM needs to sell the Eschweiler tract, make the ABB deal and also market as many as possible of six more development tracts on the parcel as possible in order to make its next payment to the county.
Ewerdt said Monday that county supervisors on the economic development committee were not particularly open to the idea of reducing the sale price of the Eschweiler plot to aid UWM.
"Supervisor (John) Weishan in particular seemed very much against it," Ewerdt said, and several others seconded him.
That's hardly surprising, except that Milwaukee County had originally agreed to sell the whole 89 acres for much less than it finally did.
County economic development staff negotiated a sale price for what was then to be called Innovation Park at $8.5 million. But at the eleventh hour, before the County Board could vote on the sale, then-board chairman Lee Holloway held up the measure and said he wouldn't let it come to a vote unless the price was raised by $5 million, to $13.5 million.
Ultimately, UWM agreed, and the sale went through. But UWM also did not get any support from the UW System Board of Regents and had to go it alone.
Wauwatosa now finds itself lobbying on UWM's behalf, and that irks Ald. Ewerdt.
"I'm not pleased that this has become Wauwatosa's problem, to see that this all works out," Ewerdt said. "Where is UWM in this? They're practically invisible – they should be out there in front of this, because this is their project."