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New fund may improve parks and facilities in West Allis

Aug. 12, 2014

West Allis — Because of a round-about financial plan, a stream of cash is headed toward West Allis to refresh its fiscally languishing parks.

In the last few years, West Allis has had to remove pieces of playground equipment for safety reasons, and it hasn't been able to replace it.

A mulch pit sits in place of the play equipment at a park in his district, said Alderman Michael May.

"What kid wants to play in a mulch pit?" he asked.

The flow of cash could be used to replace play equipment there and elsewhere, said Mayor Dan Devine who proposed a park rehabilitation plan.

The money might also be used for general park beautification and repair, developing the city's under-utilized parks and creating parks for areas that are underserved, creating a dog park, a small splash pad, a tot lot, additional pocket or small parks and making a park fully accessible to those with handicaps, he said.

"Community parks are a living thing and often reflect the vibrancy and energy of a neighborhood," Devine wrote in his park rehabilitation proposal to the common council.

And right now, the parks are sagging somewhat, said John Stibal, city development director, who was instrumental in creating the cash stream to help rejuvenate the parks.

How to breathe new vibrancy into them will be guided by an assessment of outdoor recreational facilities and open spaces by the city and its various departments. There also would be an update to the city's 1996 Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan, under Devine's proposal.

Only 30 percent of the original comprehensive plan has been funded, he said.

The city expects a revenue stream of about $90,000 a year for park rehabilitation and enhancement for seven years under the financing plan, Devine said.

Financing came about because the city was looking for a better place to put its idle cash and because a new parking structure is needed for Johnson Controls that will soon move into the Renaissance Center in the city, Stibal said.

Johnson Controls' coming with its 800 jobs was contingent upon a parking structure for 650 cars being built at the Renaissance Center, 801 S. 60th St. Renaissance owner Van Buren Management's Joel Lee obtained $9 million of New Markets Tax Credits from the First-Ring Redevelopment Enterprise that West Allis organized to attract tax credits that promote redevelopment.

But Van Buren Management needed $4.2 million more to build the $10 million parking structure. So, the plan is for West Allis to loan FIRE the $4.2 million from the money it wanted to invest anyway for a better return.

FIRE will reloan the $4.2 million to Van Buren Management, which will pay it back. The city expects to receive about $180,000 in interest from the loan to be approved at about 4.5 percent interest. Devine proposes using half the interest for park improvement.

The loan would be safely secured by FIRE pledging its future income stream. All loans will be repaid as the borrower is required to refinance at the end of seven years, Stibal said.

The proposal provides an opportunity on two fronts, Stibal said. One is filling the remaining space at the Renaissance Center with Johnson Controls and gaining a long-term return on the city's investment that far exceeds the 0.3 percent the investments get now.

The revenue stream will be put to good use, Stibal said.

"We can fix all our parks so everybody has a great neighborhood park," he said.

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