Monday, February 23, 2015

What you may not know: Week of February 23

The Appleton Common Council has a full slate of committee meetings this week, but most of the headlines will probably happen on Monday:

Community and Economic Development, Monday, 6 pm

If you've been following the news recently then you may be aware of some of the latest developments regarding the proposed Exhibition Center project. If you haven't, here's a quick recap:

  • Back in November of 2013 the council approved a 2014 budget that called for the project to continue and budgeted for a land purchase and necessary utility work around the proposed facility.
  • On January 7, 2015 council was asked to approve an agreement to purchase the property from the county. That motion failed on a 6-8 vote with one abstention.
  • At our next meeting on January 21, council voted to reconsider that item but did not take another vote. Instead, the item was referred to the Community and Economic Development Committee and has been held there for over a month since.
That process will take a step forward (or backward, I suppose) tonight when the committee meets in extended session in an attempt to answer any outstanding questions regarding the project, I anticipate an extended discussion on this topic, as there are a lot of moving parts to cover.

This meeting was initially scheduled to be information-only, but that was a concern for me and at least two other alderpersons, Polly Dalton and Greg Dannecker. The process of moving forward with this project requires a lot of staff and consultant time, neither of which are inexpensive. The longer we delay decisions on this item, the more money we're going to spend on a project that may not have final support from this council.

As such, Alderpersons Dannecker, Dalton and I submitted a resolution on Wednesday calling for the city to disengage from the project. That resolution also appears on tonight's agenda. I've written previously about my reasons not to support this effort, but I'll recap them here:
  1. City ownership and the risks of this project becoming a general fund liability in part or in whole if any of a variety of things go wrong.
  2. The uncertain ownership situation of the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel, the amount of leverage we would be giving to an unknown partner and the possibility that we will negotiate a lease but be forced to renegotiate and weaken it under pressure from a new partner.
  3. The fact that the projected impact of this project diminished significantly between the first and second feasibility study, the uncertain nature of industry trends and economic projections, and the significant possibility that the convention increase we're expecting will be overstated or negligible.
  4. The county's excessive asking price for the property, both in financial terms and as related to the parking concessions being requested.
I think an exhibition center built under the right circumstances could be a great thing for downtown Appleton. I don't feel our current direction reflects the right circumstances, though, and I cannot support it while it involves the city taking on this much of the risk.

Municipal Services, Tuesday, 5:30 pm

Moving on, on Tuesday night the Municipal Services Committee will likely take the next step forward towards approving a new traffic signal at the intersection of Ballard Road and Ashbury Drive near North High School. That project was approved as part of the 2015 budget, and now the committee will be asked to recommend approval of related traffic ordinance changes.

There are three adjustments requested, with two containing the decision to remove the stop signs and add traffic signals. The third would create a no parking, stopping or standing zone that extends 810 feet east of Ballard on Ashbury. I've asked for clarification on this, but by my estimation that would extend from Ballard to roughly the back of the high school's parking lots.

I don't expect this item to be controversial, but I wanted to share it as a reminder that traffic lights are expected to go in at this intersection during this construction season.

Finance, Wednesday, 4:30 pm

While much attention has been directed towards the exhibition center efforts and other projects downtown, on Wednesday the Finance Committee will be asked to recommend approval for another significant land acquisition on Northland Avenue.

The parcel of land up for purchase would be the future home of a retention pond as part of the West Wisconsin stormwater project, which also includes the construction of a pond near the intersection of Birchwood and Glendale Avenues. 

I'm still awaiting some of the details on this proposed purchase, but I've previously supported efforts to reduce stormwater issues in this portion of the city.

You can see agendas for all of this week's meetings and the full schedule at the city's Legistar page.

Keeping you informed on issues that may impact you around the city is one of my primary goals as an alderman. Making the council's activity as accessible as possible to as many people as are interested is part of my goal to make it easier for more people to get involved with issues that matter to them.

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