For the past couple of weeks, the city of Monona has been listed as “delinquent” in Dane County’s property tax records.
The city owed about $50,000 for two parcels it bought last year for the Riverfront Development Project.
City Administrator Patrick Marsh said city officials believed that because the two properties – the Chase Bank building and the former Ruby restaurant – were purchased for economic development, the city would be exempt from paying property taxes.
Alas, that turned out to be not the case, so the city coughed up $36,125 for the Chase building, plus $2,700 in interest and penalties. The old restaurant property cost $10,858 in taxes, plus $813 in late fees.
Marsh said the city hopes to be able to pass those bills on to the developer who undertakes the project.
The good news is, a developer has been found: Ascendant Holdings of Madison and Milwaukee.
The company was founded by two UW-Madison graduates, Eric Nordeen and Matthew Prescott. Both have extensive experience in commercial real estate projects, and Prescott has a law degree as well.
They now have 30 days in which to come up with a plan and a timeline for the project, which includes the blighted triangle bordered by Bridge Road, West Broadway and Metropolitan Lane.
Marsh confirmed the city plans to spend $40 million on infrastructure improvements to the 7.4-acre site, starting with Bridge Road next year.
Metropolitan Lane, which runs off Bridge Road between the old EDS building and the Bourbon Street Grille, also needs a lot of work, Marsh said.
The city spent about $2 million to acquire the bank and restaurant properties, and has agreements with other businesses in the area, including Inland Boats and Monona resident Bill Noltner, who owns the Bridge Lounge and adjacent land.
The fairly new Monona State Bank building is not included in the project.
Neither is the Bourbon Street Grille, which is in a building owned by the Four Lakes Yacht Club.
Yacht Club President Tommy Thompson, also a Monona resident, said the club is willing to negotiate with the developer.
The club’s cooperation may be pivotal to the success of the project. Not only does the club have a 99-year lease on 20 parking spots in the bank building’s parking lot, but it also has a similar lease giving it control of the entire Yahara River bank between Bridge Road and Broadway.
Currently, the riverbank is full of boat slips. The club also operates the only commercial gas dock on Lake Monona.
The city’s vision for the riverbank is quite different, calling for a “riverwalk” pedestrian and bike path along the shore.
Eventually, the river walk would run all the way from the River Place commercial area (where the Original Pancake House is), around the new Treysta on the Water, to the north side of Bridge Road, where it would connect with the city of Madison’s path through Paunack Park.
The city’s vision also calls for a public storage and launch area for canoes and kayaks in the development.
Thompson thinks that’s extremely unwise.
The river there is narrow and has a strong current, plus it’s full of power boats. Thompson said he can’t imagine any paddler even wanting to put in there.
A far better location for paddlers to access Mud Lake would be at Lottes Park, currently undergoing its own redevelopment.
City officials and volunteers on the plan commission and community development authority have shepherded the redevelopment project so far, and they’ve made some good suggestions.
Several have said the plan has far too little green space and far too much surface parking.
Surface lots do seem like a waste of space. A parking ramp, although far more expensive, could accommodate many more cars while simultaneously leaving more land available for retail, office, apartments and condos.
And while green space and bike paths are nice this time of year, I hope the developers remember these five things: November, December, January, February and March – five months when a lot of us don’t even want to walk anywhere, let alone ride a bike.
Finally, kudos to Ald. Kathy Thomas for bringing up the need for public art in the project. I think it would be a fine place for a statue of Sarah Wood, the Ho-Chunk woman who was married to Abe Wood, Monona’s first white settler.
Abe proved to be somewhat of a cad, abandoning Sarah and their daughter in 1839. But Sarah lived on the lake’s Squaw Bay until 1850 and taught many white settlers what they needed to know in order to survive.
I suggest commissioning Monona’s own Harry Whitehorse, a renowned Ho-Chunk sculptor, to create the piece.
By the way, most citizens missed the chance to view the most recent plans for the property and get in their two cents’ worth. A public meeting in May for that purpose was attended by a whopping four members of the public, Marsh said.
You can still view the plans and read all the latest by going to mymonona.com and clicking on Riverfront Development.
On a completely unrelated topic: I realize that, to a lot of my fellow citizens, Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican legislators are evil incarnate. In letter after letter, and column after column, citizens bemoan state spending cuts: How dare the state spend less on bike paths, or elder care, or programs for the poor, or public schools, or the university system, or state parks…
But can we look at the other side of the tax-and-spend equation?
The national Tax Foundation ranks Wisconsin the 46th worst in the nation for combined income and sales taxes.
WalletHub ranked Wisconsin 42nd worst overall for combined taxes and fees, adjusted for the cost of living; 48th worst for property taxes,, and says our overall tax bills are 27 percent higher than the national average.
The Tax Foundation also ranked Wisconsin’s business taxes 43rd worst in the country.
And the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Wisconsin is “dead last” among the 50 states for business start-ups.
And here’s the thing: Despite major cuts to public education funding since the recession began in 2008, Wisconsin’s school spending continues to rank above the national average by nearly $2,000 per student.
I suspect that’s true for lots of things: We may be spending less than we used to, but we’re still spending more than most other states.
If taxation of both businesses and residents is not reduced, fewer and fewer businesses will choose to locate here, leading to fewer jobs for future Wisconsin citizens.
Wisconsin is a great state, but how long will it stay that way if our taxes continue to drive people and businesses away?
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