Sunday, January 4, 2015

Abele's Ivory Tower Of Corruption

As I pointed out in my previous post, Lisa Kaiser of the Shepherd Express has done a pretty damning overview of Boss Abele's first year of unprecedented and unbridled consolidation of power in Milwaukee County.  As many of us progressives had warned, it has only opened the door to more secrecy and more corruption.  A prime example is Abele's monument to plutocracy, the Couture, a 44-story white skyscraper that remarkably resembles a giant Bic lighter:
But that (meaning Abele's attempt at privatizing the food services at the zoo) pales in comparison to proposals to sell off lakefront property for commercial development without a fully public RFP process. Not only has this allowed Abele to strike deals in private with developers, but it threatens to chip away at what’s known and admired by city planners throughout the country as the “emerald necklace” of public parks that rings Milwaukee County.

First, in 2012, the Abele administration offered a little-used Requests for Interest (RFI) for the Transit Center parcel, a more informal type of request for ideas than a traditional RFP. While most bidders offered vague proposals to transform the site, developer Rick Barrett served up a fully detailed plan to build The Couture, then conceived as a multiuse high rise with high-end condos, retail, a hotel and more. Abele was ready to sign off on the deal and presented it to the board as his preferred bidder, but prohibited supervisors from vetting all of the proposals in an open meeting. The board held public hearings on the project but the project was still ensnared by the state constitution’s Public Trust Doctrine, which requires former lakebed parcels to be held by public entities for the public good. Enter Abele’s conservative Republican legislator friends, who literally redrew the shoreline to allow Abele’s friend to move forward on his commercial development on the disputed property.
It needs to be noted that Rick Barrett had originally said that he would be able to build this Tower of Abele without the use of any public funds.

That has quickly changed.

 Barrett is now saying that he needs the City of Milwaukee to redesign the whole streetcar layout, using tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, if not hundreds of millions, to make his project feasible.  This includes nearly $9 million of federal taxpayer money because - gasp - a multimodal transit building needs, y'know, to be used by transit.

Lest the gentle reader thinks that I am overly exaggerating that the Couture and now diverted streetcar is only for the benefit of the top 1%, I would point to this report by Michael Horne of Urban Milwaukee, as he gushes over Mayor Tom Barrett's plan of diverting taxpayer dollars to support this debacle (emphasis mine):
Rick Barrett of Barrett Visionary Development plans to develop the site as the Couture, a “44-story mixed-use development comprised of approximately 302 market-rate apartments, approximately 49,835 square feet of retail and restaurants, and substantial public components,” according to the TID proposal. The Couture “will provide an integrated multimodal transit hub, publicly accessible plazas and publicly accessible natural indoor/outdoor spaces, pedestrian bridges and a new lakefront stop for the proposed streetcar line.”

The apartments will rent from $1,620 a month for a studio to $6,869 for a penthouse unit, or from $1.83 to $3.50 per square foot. Cash flow from the residential units will comprise 82 per cent of the project’s anticipated revenue.

The retail component of the project will provide 13 percent of the project revenue, with projected rents of $24 per square foot.
$1,620 a month for a studio apartment?! That is more than twice what people in the suburbs pay for a two-bedroom apartment. And for what they are asking for the penthouse, one could buy - or at least put down a substantial downpayment - on a house.

No, gentle reader, this project is not for the likes of you or me, unless you just happen to have more money than you know what to do with and less common sense than a housefly.

At least now we can understand Boss Abele's need for such secrecy.  If the public found out exactly how bad he is screwing them over, he'd be less popular than Tom Ament or Scott Walker.

Ironically, Boss Abele, Mayor Barrett and the other Republicrats are trying to push this plan to transform the lakefront into a plutocratic playground are claiming that it will help the economy and create good paying jobs.

In reality, if they wanted to accomplish those things and even be able to afford their plutocratic playthings, they would raise the minimum wage to a living wage, allow workers to unionize and provide benefits like paid sick leave and paid Family Medical Leave.  Instead, they have not only not supported these things, but have actively fought against them.

The most disappointing thing about these Republicrats is the way they misrepresented themselves as liberals and progressives.

If we wanted someone that would make overreaching power grabs, shut down any hint of transparency in government, let big money make the rules and to sell off public assets in no bid contracts, we have voted for Scott Walker and the Teapublicans.

Sometimes, I wonder if we didn't anyway.


  1. the walker admin. is in the process of selling off all the state owned power plants that generate electricity. ask d.o.a. for how much or what the asking price is and you are told that info can not be given out as it would impede the sale. also a lot of the public don't know that these power plants also provide heating and a/c to state hospitals, state universities, and state prisons with the exhausted steam from electric generation. this keeps utility cost for these institutions manageable. with these power plants privatized those utility cost will go up.

  2. capper, many thanks.

  3. This kind of crap is happening all over the state. Ive been watching the dismantling and selling off of public property here in Manitowoc where our county exec Dempublican Bob Ziegelbauer sold off a new 15 millioin dollar health care center for a no bid 6 mil and his chief hatchet man Jim Brey attempted to use a City budget crisis to sell off our public utilities. I wonder how many other counties this is going on in but dont have the visibility of a Milwaukee?