I make it a point to visit the Fuel Cafe once a week to remind myself of what I once was. Young. The only substantive difference between those of us in downtown condos and patrons of the Fuel Cafe is age. When I was young, I also sat in cafes and listened to tunes and talked smart and questioned authority and talked about the “man.” Granted, I listened to Pink Floyd instead of Pink, but you get the idea. Oh, yeah, one other difference — I didn’t smoke because I wanted to age. I occasionally read and hear less than flattering comments about “those rich people that live in the downtown condominiums.” As a city we need less polarization and more honest discussion. If the result of this discussion is honest disagreement among differing views, then, on occasion, let’s agree to disagree and move on for the betterment of the city we all live in. So who are these “rich” condo owners? Here is how I became a downtown condo owner: age. In 1983 I bought a home. To buy the home, I saved a small downpayment, sold my car, and borrowed a few bucks from family and friends. I was so poor after buying the home I cooked food on a small Weber grill because I couldn’t afford a stove. I did buy a stove by the onset of winter that year. Twenty-two years later I sold the home and had a good deal of equity. I had equity because I made a smart home purchase, maintained the home, and kept it for a long time. My story is probably a good example of how others became downtown condo owners. Condo owners benefit the city. Demolition of the Park East freeway and development of that land also will benefit the city. Let’s look at the Beerline development which was developed by Legacy Partners and the architectural firm of Vetter-Denk. It consists of 66 units completed to date on Commerce Street, on the fringe of the Riverwest neighborhood. With an average sale price in the area of $300,000, there is roughly $20 million of development in the Commerce Street corridor. With a net (less state tax credits) tax rate of $26 per thousand (I’m rounding for those accountant types out there) the Beerline development generates approximately $515,000 in tax revenue. (Yes, I know some of it goes for the TIF, but it will eventually go directly to all taxing bodies.) Of the $515,000 generated by this development, approximately $180,000 will be earmarked for Milwaukee Public Schools. Those funds are enough to educate 20 kids or pay for four or five teachers. Not one of the 66 units is occupied by an owner with school age children, yet a minimum of $2,700 of each unit’s tax bill goes to something that benefits the city, county, and state — education. That’s not a complaint but a fact. I think we all recognize the value of an educated regional and state population and we all understand that paying for schools, even absent one’s own kids, is the price of living in a downtown condominium. So the next time someone says something about “those rich people” living in the downtown condos, just substitute “older” for “rich.” Let’s not allow differences to polarize us; rather, through discussion, maybe we can actually learn from each other and have some fun along the journey. I know I continue to learn from the young cats in the neighborhood, both from observation and discussion. It’s even possible that the young ones might learn something from us older cats.
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