The project is a retail and apartment development along the Root River in the 900 block of Water Street.
Financial District Properties, a commercial real estate development company based in Davenport, Iowa, plans to develop the 20-acre multi-parcel site. The first phase represents $42 million of the $65 million project. The project was passed at a special board meeting Wednesday.
In an 11 – 4 vote, the common council approved the first phase, which calls for the city to use $1.8 million in intergovernmental revenue-sharing funds to purchase three parcels of land; granting a $4.5 million bridge loan from the redevelopment authority to Financial District Properties; and the city borrowing $7 million to pay for infrastructure improvements. The development includes 12 properties along 900 Water St.
The $4.5 million loan dollars will come from the redevelopment authority. Once Financial District Properties secures financing from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, it is expected to pay back the $4.5 million to the redevelopment authority.
During the meeting, several alderman had concerns about the deal after lawsuits were filed by a former business partner against Rodney Blackwell, managing partner of Financial District Properties. Blackwell has also filed a countersuit against the former business partner. A motion was made to defer the vote, but it failed and a vote was taken on whether the project should move forward.
Aldermen Michael Shields, Sandy Weidner, Henry Perez, and Edward Diehl voted against the project saying they wanted to see the city defer the project to find out more about the lawsuits.
The project has also received a $9 million in Historic Preservation Tax Credits from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which would have expired Dec. 31 if the Common Council would not have approved the deal.
“From my standpoint we are not ready to vote on this tonight. I would like to delay this vote until at least next week. Let’s do a little more investigation so that we can make the appropriate decision,” Diehl said.
Alderman Jeff Coe said he supported the project because it will bring more young professionals downtown.
“Right now, the worst case scenario is that if this project fell through, we would own the property and we would have control,” he said.
Mayor John Dickert said the project will also help spur other development projects within the city.
“Development breeds development and I don’t think the council understood that fully,” he said during an interview after the meeting.
Jim Bowman, project manager for Financial District Properties, said he understands the concerns from aldermen who wanted to defer the vote.
“It was a tough vote,” Bowman said. “We respect those that opposed it. They have the right to do that and we respect that. But we do look forward to working with the entire council to bring this project to fruition.”
Bowman said the lawsuits will not have an impact on the Machinery Row projects, even as the company seeks funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“They already know our creditworthiness and all of our success, and our ability to do this,” Bowman said.
Listen to our interview with Machinery Row project manager Jim Bowman and Racine Mayor John Dickert about the next steps for the project.
Aldermen Greg Helding and Edward Diehl explain their positions on Machinery Row.