Wisconsin Department Of Administration
Officials at the state Department of Administration are not saying whether the agency has chosen a developer for a controversial $196 million redevelopment project for the Hill Farms site at the corner of University Avenue and Segoe Road. According to the DOA's request for proposals, the agency was slated to issue a letter of intent by Dec. 31.
Department of Administration spokesman Cullen Werwie did not answer multiple phone calls and emails from Isthmus seeking information on the status of the project.
Sen. Fred Risser (D-Madison), who has served on the state Building Commission on and off for the last 50 years, says he, too, is in the dark.
"I can't get any answers," says Risser, whose last day on the panel is Monday due to committee reassignments made by Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse). "They are stonewalling me completely."
Risser notes that the Building Commission would normally be kept apprised of projects of this magnitude and meet every month. But the committee, chaired by Gov. Scott Walker, has been on a hiatus, Risser adds.
"It's very unusual that the Building Commission hasn't met for four months and that the whole process is taking place without legislative review at all."
The panel's calendar indicates its last meeting was Aug. 6 and notes "there are no future meetings scheduled at this time."
The state is looking for a developer to build a new office building to replace the current headquarters for the state Department of Transportation. The 21 acres of state land around the building would also be sold to the developer.
The Department of Administration sought proposals for the project on Oct. 10. In November, The Capital Times reported that the agency refused to release the names of some 40 parties who attended a mandatory tour of the project site in advance of submitting a bid.
On Nov. 18, the DOA released the names of four developers being closely considered for the project. They were Middleton-based T. Wall Enterprises; McCaffery Interests, based in Chicago; Minneapolis-based Mortenson; and C.D. Smith of Fond du Lac. In October Terrence Wall, the president and CEO of T. Wall Enterprises, donated $9,975 to Scott Walker's campaign, according to records from the Government Accountability Board.
The Wisconsin State Journal reported that a selection committee would interview the developers the week of Dec. 15.
That $196 million price tag for the project prompted a Dec. 18 letter of complaint (PDF) from three Republican lawmakers to DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch.
Reps. Joe Sanfelippo, Dave Craig and Rob Hutton noted the Department of Transportation was facing a projected "funding shortfall" that had already prompted Secretary Mark Gottlieb to request an additional $750 million for his agency. "In light of these facts, we question the wisdom of proceeding with this Doyle-era idea in committing $200 million of scarce resources into an office building that will be of little benefit to the citizens who will be paying for it."
The lawmakers asked whether a new building was needed at all and what the annual operating costs would be. They concluded by urging Huebsch to "delay signing a contract for construction until a thorough examination of DOT's financial condition is completed and it is determined that proceeding down this path is the best course to follow."
According to the RFP, once the letter of intent was issued there would be "required legislative approvals," though the details of those were "to be determined."