The city is taking steps to transfer ownership of two buildings on Fourth Street so the parcel can be included in an offer to a potential developer.
A new working group that includes city staff and representatives from the Redevelopment Authority and council will bring recommendations to the Common Council in April on how to proceed with the transfer of the power plant and public works facility to the RDA.
For years, the RDA has sought to include the parcel in the riverfront redevelopment project. The plan is to demolish the public works garage and save the power plant building along the Yahara River to offer to a developer. The two buildings are within the same parcel of land.
The issue is complicated because the city holds insurance on the buildings and has money set aside to repair the power plant.
Council president Tom Majewski (Dist. 3) said the RDA “sat on” the riverfront buildings for years until they deteriorated and had to be demolished.
“The RDA at this point in time doesn’t really need the building,” Majewski said. “The earliest anything would happen is the middle of the year, (and the RDA would have) no insurance, no maintenance monies. What good does that do?
“When that building comes of interest and there is somebody who’s interested in it, I believe the city would be transferring the funds then. Until then, the building should be in the city, protected.”
The RDA has had at least one couple interested in turning it into a distillery, in 2018, but the plan fell through.
The city has $115,000 set aside for repairs and maintenance work for the power plant, finance director Jamin Friedl explained at the Feb. 13 RDA meeting, but since that money is in the building maintenance fund and was not borrowed, the city would be free to transfer it to the RDA to use for the same purpose.
The roof was last examined in 2014, and Mayor Tim Swadley said it would be a good idea to have the building inspected again after the snow melts this spring, possibly using some of that earmarked money.
“We’ve had contractors (and) historical preservation people out to look at the building to determine whether we need to invest that money,” Swadley told the RDA. “At this point, we were told the building is solid, we don’t need to invest the money.”
The benefit of waiting to do the work, Swadley said, is a potential developer might be able to use historical tax credits to pay for it instead, saving the city money.
But as RDA member Ald. Regina Hirsch (D-3) put it, “the last thing we want is another failed building, that would just be horrible.”
The tentative roster of the working group that will attempt to iron out these positions includes Friedl, Swadley, council representative Majewski, planning director Rodney Scheel, village attorney Matt Dregne and an RDA representative, member Lukas Trow.
The power plant was built in 1906, according to city records, and has been the subject of speculation about potential business uses. The proposed whitewater park would run right in front of the building, making for potentially prime viewing from a riverside sundeck.
The Common Council tasked the working group with returning with proposals for the transfer at its April 9 meeting.