The City is currently considering the future of the property that was formerly used by the Logemann Community Center. The property is between the developments known as Town Center I and Town Center II (Spur 16) and behind Opitz Cemetery. It is next to the Mequon Civic Campus.
I have been receiving many questions and comments. I am posting this to provide some answers. It is hard to address everything in one post. I will add more as more questions arise and, of course, my opinion may change as I receive more information.
A Brief History of Logemann Center Discussions
The Logemann Center has been closed for over a year. The building is poorly laid out, is expensive to operate and has asbestos and other structural and environmental problems. It is in bad shape. In June of 2016, the Common Council decided that the building must come down.
Since then, the City has been looking at uses for this site. All discussions have all been in open session.
In July of 2016, the Common Council learned that it would cost over $100,000 just for demolition. Utilities would need to be moved, and asbestos would need to be removed. This cost would not include repaving or other improvements to make the site usable. Those costs would likely be, at a minimum, an additional $60,000 to $85,000.
Rather than incurring that cost, the Common Council decided to test the market by seeking proposals for use of the site. The thought was that a user might save the City the cost of the demolition and environmental abatement. Additionally, a user might be able to use some of the structure from the center.
In September of 2016, the City issued a request for proposals. Two proposals were received by the deadline in November.
One was from Foxtown Associates, a group of local businesspeople and developers. Foxtown proposed a redevelopment of the entire civic campus with improved public amenities. The pool and baseball diamond would be improved; there would be an outdoor public/library event space; and walking trails. Part of the Foxtown group owns the old brewery building on the south side of Mequon Road. Foxtown has not yet raised the funds necessary to make the civic campus improvements; however, the group says they have a commitment for $1 million. They estimate the cost of the improvements at $7 million, but have not provided any back-up for that estimate.
The other was from John Leszczynski, a Mequon resident and former alderman. Leszczynski proposed a small family restaurant and pub. His project would have a smaller footprint than the Logemann Center, and would have extensive balconies overlooking the baseball field. It also would have publicly accessible restrooms for users of the Interurban Trail, a dog watering station and ice cream stand. It would include an outdoor public event space. Leszczynski also proposes offering canoe rentals at a nearby park.
In November, the City’s Economic Development Board (a group of volunteers nominated by the Mayor and confirmed by the Common Council) unanimously endorsed the Leszczynski proposal.
In January, the Common Council discussed this site in open session.
Then, on February 28, sitting as the Committee of the Whole, the Common Council held a special, open meeting. The public was invited, and many people spoke in favor of each of the proposals. Both Foxtown and Leszczynski gave extensive presentations.
The Committee of the Whole recommended that the City pursue both proposals. Because the Leszczynski proposal is more ready to proceed, the Committee stated that it should be given initial priority. However, the Committee also wants to proceed with the Foxtown proposal.
I offered an amendment to the Committee’s vote, requiring the City to engage an independent consultant to analyze parking for Town Center I, the Logemann parcel and Spur 16 (also called Town Center II) – the property directly west of the Logemann parcel. See the parking section below.
Can Both the Foxtown and Leszczynski Projects Occur?
The Common Council is not supporting one of the proposals to the detriment of the other. They are not mutually exclusive. Personally, I would like to see both occur. I have spoken to representatives of both groups, and neither believes that the other prevents their proposal from occurring.
Was the Logemann Center Planned for Commercial Development When the Town Center was Created?
No, but that is not a fair question. When the Town Center was proposed 10-14 years ago, the City anticipated that Logemann would remain a community center. The City did not anticipate its demise. There was very little analysis of its use. So, while it was not planned for commercial development, it also was not planned for park use or anything else. Had it been closed at the time; it would have made sense to include it within the commercial area. A walkable commercial area has contiguous properties, not individual, isolated strips.
What About Parking?
As I note above, the current direction to move forward with both proposals is conditioned on a full parking study being done. I will not vote for any proposal unless we have a plan for adequate parking in the area. No proposal should exacerbate parking issues.
Won’t the Leszczynski proposal add parking users? Most certainly. However, Leszczynski also proposes to add a significant number of parking spots. Will that be enough? There is a significant difference of opinion. That is why an independent study needs to occur.
Foxtown’s proposal does not address parking. Obviously, if there is greatly expanded use of the civic campus, parking needs will be greater. The parking study is necessary for that proposal also.
In 2005, a parking study of the entire Town Center area (both Mequon and Thiensville) was commissioned. You can see a copy by clicking here. Unfortunately, the City has followed only some of its recommendations. It ignored some of the other, important suggestions. Regardless of what occurs with Logemann, we need to revisit that study and its recommendations. Presumably, the new parking study will do that.
There are several things the City can do to improve parking, including adding more on-street parking, adding one-way parking along the Interurban Trail, ensuring parking flow between adjacent sites, expanding parking at the library and on Division Street, improving pedestrian connections between parking places, striping existing on-street parking, requiring off-site parking for public and private employees and so forth. We also need to reexamine the parking requirements of the Code, and the way staff administers them. I expect the consultants will have more ideas.
Parking is a real issue. It needs to be addressed. City staff has proposed little to deal with the issue, and has perhaps miscalculated existing parking needs. The study is necessary.
If the study concludes that these proposals are a mistake, I will not be voting for them.
What About a Parking Garage?
Theoretically, this is a nice idea. However, parking garages are incredibly expensive. For example, a 40-car garage is estimated to cost $800,000 to $1 million (or more). It would result in a net gain of perhaps 20 spaces (it would have to be built over existing parking). 20 spaces might lessen the occasional summer problems in Town Center I, but at whose cost? Should taxpayers subsidize that development, particularly when it sold for a multi-million profit a few months ago? The owner of that development obviously does not see a big problem or it would not have paid a premium for that project. If such a facility is necessary, the property benefitted by it should pay for it.
Why Civic Campus Improvements?
To be blunt, our civic campus is tired. A vibrant civic campus gives families a place to go, and makes a community more vibrant.
The civic campus improvements proposed by Foxtown should be just a beginning. Mequon and Thiensville have started a riverwalk and riverside community improvements. Those improvements, along with the civic campus improvements, came to a stop with the recent recession. They are still part of the vision for this area. The Foxtown proposal should help revive that vision.
Why Not Just Use the Logemann Center Property for More Civic Campus Improvements?
If there is not a good parking solution, that might have to happen. However, ultimately, the small commercial area along Mequon Road is necessary to pay for the improvements and to help create a neighborhood. Neighborhood shopping, restaurants, some limited residential and a vibrant civic campus all go hand in hand. Residential creates use and attracts the retail and restaurants; shops and restaurant create opportunity, tax base and a sense of place; and the civic campus will make the residential and the shops desirable.
The Logemann Center property and the cemetery were always interruptions in the Town Center. A good small town downtown does not have big gaps between neighborhood businesses. Instead, it offers side by side shops between which people can easily walk. Developments surrounded by asphalt expanses do not make for a downtown. They make for a bad strip center feel.
If the Logemann Center development is done right (walking paths, community areas and so forth), it will create a bridge between Town Center I and Spur 16 (Town Center II).
So, is it all About the Money?
In part, yes, in part no. Tax base is important to pay for improvements and operations. The residents of Mequon have repeatedly said, in surveys and elections, that one of the reasons they live here is the affordable taxes. The small Town Center development area will provide tax revenue to pay for civic campus improvements and operations.
However, the business development also provides services for the west side of Mequon. It creates a place and a reason to go to the area. It serves the people of the west side of Mequon.
Don’t We Have Enough Restaurants?
Every survey done by the City over the past 20 years has called for more restaurants. In the Vision 2010 study, 8018 residents were surveyed, as well as 773 businesses. Over 65% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that Mequon needed more family and fine dining restaurants. Since that survey was done, Mequon has had some great new restaurants open, but we have about the same number of restaurants now as then. The Town Center (a very small area from Cedarburg Road to Buntrock Avenue) was created to encourage these types of amenities for the residents of the west side of Mequon.
Won’t Another Restaurant Harm Existing Restaurants?
Although that seems intuitive, it is not how it works. Most successful restaurants are near other restaurants. Look at Kinnikinnic Avenue, the Third Ward and Water Street. Restauranteurs complained when more restaurants were built in those areas, and then they thrived. We do not need, and probably cannot support or want, an area as full of restaurants as the Mayfair Collection. The Town Center is a small area, and we do not want that kind of population. But a couple of more restaurants, provided they are well-run, should be successful.
Won’t the Town Center Ruin Mequon? Are We Creating the “new Bluemound Road?”
That is an odd comment. Mequon is 48 square miles, yet the Town Center on Mequon Road is about one-third of a mile. The retail on Bluemound Road is densely packed over eight miles. The Town Center will be, if done correctly, a pedestrian and bike friendly, small retail and restaurant area with public areas and gathering places. It is a tiny downtown in a very large Mequon. Bluemound Road has vast expanses of parking stretching out from businesses set back from the road. The Town Center will be a small but vibrant area which, like the downtowns in most small towns, has parking behind buildings and services for the community.
The balance of the Town Center will be a civic campus and river park with amenities for the community.
The Town Center is an exception – a small, unique neighborhood. The greater Mequon community should remain a community of residential neighborhoods and green space. However, the City is big enough to offer those residential neighborhoods, the green space, a Town Center, a couple of limited industrial areas, and a commercial area (Port Washington Road). All of them should be well done, and should complement each other.
The future of the Logemann property is not etched in stone Each proposal requires many more meetings. The Leszczynski proposal requires a contract, rezoning, easements, architectural and site plan review and so forth. The Foxtown proposal requires much of the same. Both will be reviewed considering the parking study. That study might end one or both of these proposals.
We have received a lot of feedback from the public. That is great! We are listening. However, we are receiving feedbacks from people who support one of the proposals, from people who support the other, from people who support both, and from people who oppose both. I expect that there will be no public “consensus.”
Ultimately, what happens to this site will depend on how it fits into the Town Center neighborhood and Town Center plans, and what is good for the City as a whole, including those people who do not express their opinions. Those of us on the Council are no smarter than everyone else (arguably, we are not as smart), but we are taking the time to look at the details of these issues. The Council, with the help of the public, will come to the best decision we can for the future of Mequon.