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Milwaukee County Really, Really, Really Needs A Competent Economic Developer and Soon

Posted by Chris Liebenthal on August 4, 2010

As the title says, Milwaukee County really, really, really needs a competent economic development director and they need him or her now.

The Daily Reporter points out that Milwaukee County is “awaits an offer” from someone willing to buy the City Campus building off of them.

The article points out that the county sent out an RFP for someone to buy the building, which stands mostly vacant, as well as two parking lots within easy access to the building.

The article also notes that the County has about 100 workers in there at the moment.   There are also two private businesses, a Chinese restaurant and a clothing store.

So far, so good, right?

I would agree, but with a caveat that instead of “waiting” for someone to notice the request for an RFP, the County would have been better served to have someone competent to try to peddle this land.  Right now, as we pointed out earlier, there is no one in that position, nor has there been anyone for more than a year and a half.  Before that, Scott Walker filled that position by rewarding cronies who had worked on his political campaigns.

But this small point it just the tip of the iceberg.

The article in The Daily Reporter goes on to point out that the County is also soliciting for someone to rent space to them.  This new space would be to house the Family Care Program, which is currently spending tons of money for rent at the Reuss Building downtown.  Besides costing the County more than three quarters of a million dollars each year, it is not in a location that many of its clients would want to go, even if they could.  In other words, it’s not user-friendly.

So now, we have the County selling one building, but wanting to rent another.  This flies in the face of the common sense attitude that it is fiscally smarter to own than to rent.

It also reminds me of the poorly thought out scheme from Scott Walker’s administration to go back on his promise and sell the county grounds, but then use all of the money from that sale to rent the Parks Building back from the developers, as well as put in a special limited use rapid bus transit.  That makes no sense fiscally either.

Meanwhile, we have many County-owned buildings that are simply languishing unused or underused.

To add to this mess, the County is also going to be renting out space at the mental health complex to three different social service agencies.  They are doing this in spite of the fact that they are no longer keeping the place clean and the building itself is in “shoddy condition.”

The County is letting the buildings it owns deteriorate and fall apart, supposedly because it costs too much money to keep up on maintenance.  But somehow it has enough money to keep renting high price office locations?  How does that make any sense?

Instead of renting all of these expensive offices, the County would be much wiser to simply do a complete overall, or better yet, replace the mental health complex with a new facility.  Then they could house not only the mental health facility, but move the Department of Aging, the Department of Disability Services, and the Family Care Management people into the building as well.

They could then move the people out of City Campus and put them into the Coggs building, which the County already owns, and sell off the City Campus building outright and not worry about renting yet another area for them.  (The cost of maintaining an older building like Coggs is currently being offset by the rent they are charging the State of Wisconsin for the Income Maintenance Program.  When and if the State ever returns this program to the County, they will have all the state of the art equipment already in place and would only have to maintain the building.)

This would be a win for everyone involved.

The County would have a brand new (probably green) building which would be less expensive to maintain.

They would also be saving a lot of tax payer money by not having to pay out millions in rent for space they don’t need.

The money for the new building or the makeover of the current complex would be paid for by the sale of the City Campus, the Park East property and the savings from not renting the other spaces.  If more money is needed, they could sell the land that Children’s Hospital and Froedtert Hospital currently rent.

The current complex facility, or a new one, would have all of the amenities needed to accommodate the elderly and disabled citizens that these agencies serve and is on a bus route (until Walker cuts that one too).  Furthermore, it would be located in proximity to Froedtert Hospital, where many of these clients go for their health care needs, making things easier for the clients and allowing their case managers to be more efficient.

So the clients win.  The tax payers win.  And yes, even the workers win.

So what’s not to like about the deal? What is keeping the current administration from doing this?

Two things really.  One, as noted earlier, there has not been a qualified economic development director for eight years.  Two, the elderly and disabled don’t make big time campaign contributions.  Land developers and real estate tycoons do.


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