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Garden Park: A Catalytic Project

The topic at the April Riverwest Neighborhood Association meeting: Garden Park. The mood: annoyed. The result was a carefully worded, polite letter from the RNA to Bob Rodini, Chairman of the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee (RACM). “Residents of the Riverwest neighborhood have a keen interest in the development of Garden Park (821-33 East Locust Street),” the letter reads, , “as any development has significant implications for our neighborhood. Resident voices have been integral to the development process at 821 E. Locust for many years, including specific references to the parcel in the new Northeast Side Area Plan. It is smart development policy to involve residents in planning and this should continue. “Over the course of 15 years Garden Park has become an important site of community activity. Residents made improvements to the site to develop it as a park and successful location for a thriving farmers market. Residents spent considerable time sharing their concerns about the language of the Garden Park RFP with our elected City Council member, Alderman Nik Kovac. Many of these concerns were incorporated into the final RFP, and residents have shared with us their desire to have their voices heard as the development process continues.” The letter digs deeper, taking on the process for RFPs in our neighborhood, and making some very specific requests. “Garden Park is the only publicly-owned parcel of land in our neighborhood that is scheduled for development. Given the established precedent of considering resident voices in the development process for this site, the Riverwest Neighborhood Association would like to formally request the following: 1) Copies of any and all proposals submitted in response to the Garden Park RFP, including any rejected proposals. 2) That RACM share with us the expected timeline for considering and acting on all submitted proposals. 3) That RACM establish a public comment period of at least two months, wherein neighborhood residents can provide RACM with written or verbal feedback regarding any submitted proposals.  4) That as part of the public comment period, RACM hold two public meetings in the Riverwest neighborhood, where residents and RACM staff can dialogue directly with each other about the development of the site.” Riverwest is a neighborhood that is ready for a new relationship with the City. But what can we really expect from RACM? What and Who is RACM? According to the City web site, “The Redevelopment Authority of the City of Milwaukee (RACM) is an independent corporation created by state statute in 1958.” They cite their mission as eliminating “blighting conditions” that inhibit neighborhood reinvestment, fostering and promoting business expansion and job creation, and facilitating new business and housing development. They “prepare and implement” redevelopment plans and assemble real estate for redevelopment. They are empowered to borrow money, issue bonds and make loans. They can condemn property (eminent domain) to further redevelopment objectives. According to their 2007 annual report, the most recent one on their website, the 2008 Redevelopment Authority budget as approved at the December 2007 Annual Meeting includes approximately $10.9 million in annual revenue and expenditures. They’re big. As to the “who” part, RACM’s board members are appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Common Council. In addition to Chairman Rondini, there are six other members. Only one of them, Ald. Willie C. Wade, is an elected official. RACM relies on the Department of City Development (DCD) for professional, technical and administrative support. Operating funds are provided through the City’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program. Garden Park – A Catalytic Project The Northeast Side Comprehensive Plan, the Smart Growth plan that was just produced after an exhaustive two-year neighborhood input process, identified a proposal for Garden Park that was supported by the neighborhood. That proposal described a small-footprint building that left plenty of space for the traditional gardeners market on the lot. That plan did not satisfy the RFP put forward by the city. That proposal was not even submitted. And that’s annoying. It’s ironic that the lot at Bremen and Locust was identified as a catalytic project in the Northeast Side Plan. It’s very probably going to serve as a catalyst to change how the neighborhood deals with the City in the future. Check riverwestcurrents.org for more info and links.