Throughout the arduous process that lead to the recent approval by the Joint Review Board of Tax Incremental Financing for the Edgewater Hotel renovation, the controversy over whether to expand the State Street TIF district was often framed as a debate between supporters and opponents of corporate welfare. The usual ideological divisions the Cap Times vs. the State Journal, for instance emerged.
However, many commentators, both for and against, made no mention of the developmental implications of an expanded TIF district beyond the hotel's renovation. The promise of jobs, development and aesthetic improvement was all framed in the context of what the hotel itself offered. However, the recent conflict between Ald. Mike Verveer and city staff over the boundaries of the expanded district show that even those who opposed the Edgewater project saw opportunity in the tax advantages being freed up for the Hammes Co. developers who sought the funds.
Verveer, who opposed the Edgewater renovation on historic preservation grounds, is a long-time advocate for a TID in the Mansion Hill neighborhood. "I understand the magic of TIF," he says, referring to improvements he sought for the Bassett neighborhood, including lighting upgrades and the installation of underground electrical wires. When the city sought to expand the State Street TID to include the Edgewater, Verveer worked with city staff to include key parts of his district, such as the frat-heavy Langdon St. He was supported in his efforts by other Mansion Hill activists, such as CNI's Ledell Zellers, Scott Resnick, the president of the State-Langdon neighborhood group, as well as fraternities and co-ops in the area.
During the process, Verveer says he was frustrated by city staff's indifference to his recommendations for the inclusion of much of Mansion Hill in the TID. When the plan was finally revealed, neighborhood advocates were stunned to see how little of their part of town was included.
To add salt to their wounds, much of what was included in the TID lay in the James Madison area, whose neighborhood group had unanimously opposed inclusion in TIF district, and has a long history of voicing suspicion of redevelopment efforts, as former Ald. Brenda Konkel testified last week. Nevertheless, its current alder, Bridget Maniaci, was a strong proponent of the Edgewater project, and had worked with the mayor and the project developers to shepherd the plan through the Council. It seemed to indicate that political allegiances, rather than the needs and desires of city constituents, shaped the TID boundaries. Nevertheless, Maniaci made the case that the James Madison area badly needs development.
Although Verveer's persistence on the issue finally convinced city staff to add several blocks of Langdon to the plan, those additions were eventually shot down by the Board of Estimates, with Mayor Dave Cieslewicz casting the tie-breaking vote against. Opponents of the inclusion of Mansion Hill, including Council President Mark Clear, reasoned that if the TID was too large, and the included property value too great, the county's representative on the Joint Review Board, Dane County Treasurer Dave Worzala, would oppose the expansion on the grounds that it would deprive the county of too much property tax revenue (as I explained the other day).
However, pushing for a larger TID proved to be harder for Verveer than pushing for a rejection of the rather popular Edgewater project itself. Whereas Verveer could count on the help of a handful of historic preservationists and others on the Council to oppose the project, it was a difficult task to convince these same people to support an even larger TID once the TIF money had been approved. Alds. Julia Kerr, Shiva Bidar-Sielaff and Satya Rhodes-Conway all voted against any TIF district expansion. Only two other members of the Council voted with Verveer to enlarge the district.
When the Council approved the district last week, Verveer was quoted in the Herald as being "personally insulted" by the neglect of his neighborhood.
In the end, Worzala, along with MATC's representative, the city's representative and the at-large rep, who is appointed by the mayor, approved the plan. The only dissenting vote was Lucy Mathiak, who represents the Madison Metropolitan School District. I could not reach Worzala for comment.
And yet, not all Mansion Hill activists are disappointed with the deal they got. As Alicia Yager reports for the Daily Page, Judy Karofsky testified in favor of the TID to the TIF Review Board, equipped with a "colorful smile," an apt description of the former Middleton mayor whose outrageous Boston accent I often have the pleasure of encountering as I walk the streets of Mansion Hill.
Karofsky, like many other in the area, support investing in the neighborhood, with the hopes that it will attract families and provide diversity to an area otherwise dominated by student rental units. The idea, as Verveer explains, is to bring in more residents with long-term commitments to the community, and who are more likely to look after the area and be active. Only time will tell if Karofsky sees her wishes come true via a TIF deal that largely excludes her neck of the woods.