By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – After a lengthy discussion Oct. 26, the Village Board voted 3-2 to approve a State of Wisconsin Neighborhood Investment Fund Grant Program application to support the Berkshire senior housing development project on behalf of General Capital.
If a grant is awarded, the motion calls for the village to renegotiate the terms of its tax incremental financing (TIF) agreement with General Capital.
Trustees Gary Paul, Allison Williams and Tracy Flucke voted in favor, while Village President Mary Kardoskee and Trustee Steve Kubacki were opposed.
Trustees Chris Zirbel and Jay Krueger were not present.
Village Manager Joel Gregozeski said the $4.7 million in grant money requested for General Capital is being sought as part of $200 million in grants Gov. Tony Evers announced this fall to fund shovel-ready projects to serve populations negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was identified that the Berkshire project, which is the senior housing project and the workforce development housing project that has been approved for Mike McCarthy Way through General Capital, is an eligible project towards that end,” he said.
Gregozeski said village staff worked with General Capital to put together a grant to submit to the state, which was due Nov. 4, and it required a local unit of government to apply.
General Capital is planning to build a three-story, 60-unit senior apartment building and 15 two-story, three-bedroom rental townhomes.
After concerns were raised by some board members last December about infrastructure necessary to make the project succeed, General Capital agreed to the following:
• General Capital will fund the full cost of sidewalk connecting the parcel to Mike Vann Park at an estimated cost of $50,000.
• General Capital will work with the village to install a concrete slab and decorative bike rack to terminate this segment of sidewalk at Mike Vann Park at an estimated cost of $10,000.
• At the village’s discretion, General Capital will fund the painting of bike “sharrows” or other appropriate markings on Borvan Avenue.
• General Capital will contribute $25,000 toward sidewalk improvements to connect the parcel to Holmgren Way.
Kubacki said he couldn’t support the grant application with the amount of support the village has already committed to the project, which is also receiving Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) tax credits.
“I hate to say this, but this is like padding a pig,” he said. “I wasn’t in favor of this project in the first place. We’ve given substantial dollars to this particular project, and now they’re going to get some additional dollars.”
Kubacki said he supports the grant program for projects which make a difference in the community, but not in this particular case.
“I couldn’t recommend approval of this project way back when, with all the (TIF) dollars the village is putting in at 100%,” he said. “They get the WHEDA funding, and then they’re looking for this funding. To me, that’s overboard significantly.”
Kardoskee said she had the same concerns as Kubacki.
“There’s a lot of public funding going into this, and I do have concerns that they’re applying for (more money),” she said.
Flucke said the board was looking for a senior facility to locate in Ashwaubenon, and she thinks what General Capital is planning is a good project in a good location.
“Ultimately, the village will get a senior facility, and the money is there… and granted, yeah, it’s a lot of public money going into a facility,” she said. “But we as a community will benefit from this project, and we don’t have any other senior projects right now that are shovel-ready that would qualify for this.”
Flucke asked whether the TIF agreement could be modified to reflect additional funding for the project to make it more acceptable.
Gregozeski said both the village and General Capital would have to agree to renegotiate the TIF agreement.
Josh Hafron from General Capital spoke remotely and said the company is seeking the grant because of an increase in construction costs.
“Our construction costs, since the time we applied for the (WHEDA) tax credits back in December to today, have increased 20, 21, 22%, which necessitated us talking to Joel (Gregozeski) about asking for this grant,” he said.
Hafron said the federal government is providing tax dollars to help projects, which face increased construction costs because of COVID-19, be completed.
“I can say, almost emphatically, that if this project isn’t allowed or isn’t able to apply for these funds, that the project is likely not to be able to move forward,” he said.
Hafron said the project is now estimated at $20 million.
He said Ashwaubenon would not receive affordable senior housing if the project isn’t able to be built.
Hafron said he would be willing to discuss renegotiating the TIF agreement upon being awarded the grant.
“We need $20 million of sources to fund the project,” he said. “If we take $1.2 million away from the project, or negotiate part of the TIF (funding) away, we would have to… find the dollars somewhere else.”
Hafron said WHEDA tax credits will provide about $9.2 million to the project.
Ashwaubenon’s Community Development Authority agreed last December to sell General Capital the 2.51-acre site for $1 with the conditions the board approve a comprehensive development agreement for senior housing and townhome development, along with General Capital being awarded WHEDA tax credits, with closing on the sale not occurring until after the development agreement is fully executed and WHEDA tax credits are awarded.