City of Oconomowoc - The Common Council showed strong support Tuesday night for a proposal to swap city-owned property with what could be considered blighted North Main Street property for redevelopment in both areas.
Through a memorandum of understanding between the city and Bob Felker, who owns the Main Street parcels, a 55-unit apartment building would be constructed on Wisconsin Avenue and Worthington Street across from City Beach and adjacent to the library. The city will commit $150,000 to Felker's project for demolition of existing buildings on Wisconsin and site improvements. Director of Economic Development Bob Duffy said the $150,000 is the difference in value between the city's parcels and Felker's.
The city will take Felker's 105 and 111-117 N. Main St. properties and raze them, expanding Village Green to Fowler Lake and to the north on the other side of Fong's restaurant.
City Administrator Diane Gard was asked if the city intended to try and purchase Fong's and open up the entire block. Restaurateur Tommy Lin owns 105 N. Main St. sandwiched between Felker's property.
"The city has had contact with the property owner (Fong's) in between the two properties we would acquire. It is too early to know what will happen there but we believe that building could stand alone. We intend to remove both buildings that we acquire on Main Street and work those into the Village Green/waterfront area," Gard said.
Mayor Jim Daley said the land swap and redevelopment has the potential to bring 200 more residents downtown and redevelop "what is now some of the most-depressed architecture in the city.
"Think of what this can provide for the vibrancy of downtown," Daley said, adding that the farmers market now hidden in the St. Paul parking lot behind City Hall could be made presented in a more-accommodating area he referred to as the crossroads of downtown.
"People will be able to see the activity. We'll bring the green space to the lake, get rid of the road, and I envision Moonlit Movie nights with a floating screen (on Fowler Lake)," the mayor said. "We can create something pretty neat. Something we used to have."
Resident Ron Froemming expressed concerns with the project.
"I hate to see condos of any height across from the community center. Anything above three stories is blight and not fair to the neighbors. What is this going to do to traffic in the city? We had a lot of effort to get the bypass to reduce traffic in the city. What will happen to deliveries to the businesses if you make the green areas?" he said.
Froemming added he'd like to see this project and the proposed Rockwell project put on a ballot. "I think everyone has a right to determine how high a building can be," he said.
Downtown business owner Maureen Stapleton responded to Froemming's comments, acknowledging that they both are longtime, loyal residents of Oconomowoc, but adding that, eventually, people must sacrifice personal agendas to get people downtown.
"Take Draper Hall (former hotel downtown) what a beautiful building, but now there's a six-story condo unit there. Does anybody complain about traffic and noise there? I don't think the assessor and city treasurer complain about the taxes it brings in and those people that walk downtown and spend money. We need to leave old ideas in the background," Stapleton said.
Alderwoman Cathleen Slattery praised the project, saying the idea accomplishes the goals that were presented in the previously adopted Fowler Lake Promenade plan.
The promenade plan called for expansion of green space along Fowler Lake and an enhancement of the existing parking lot that creates a public gathering place.
"This is a win-win, generating more people, foot traffic, not raising taxes," said Slattery.
City Administrator Diane Gard explained that it's too early to know where the funds to pay for the project will come from. She said the $150,000 to help with the apartment site improvements could be a combination of tax increment financing district funds (the area is within TIF 4) or in-kind services provided by the city.
"Details need to be worked out. We will start with what we can currently afford to do, and we will then monitor development and our tax increments to see what we can support. We will also look for opportunities to secure grant funding," Gard said.
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