Thursday, September 27, 2018

Oshkosh eyes 2 more amendments to Menominee Nation Arena development agreement

The $18.85 million Menominee Nation Arena was built on the site of a derelict industrial site.
By Miles Maguire

The city is expecting to make two more amendments to its agreement with the developer of the Menominee Nation Arena, one to assist with financing and another to address environmental concerns.

The first amendment would allow the developer, Fox Valley Pro Basketball, to get an upfront payment from a private lender for the reimbursements it expects to receive from the city. These payments are capped at $5.5 million and are to come out of taxes that the developer must first pay to the city.

“The city is only required under the agreement to pay out increment paid by the developer and only if the increment … is paid to the city in full,” city staff wrote this week in a memo to the Common Council.

The word “increment” is part of the financing method that was used for the arena. The term refers to the higher property taxes that the city will receive based on the increased value of the site. The project occupies a formerly derelict industrial site that has recently been determined to be worth $18.85 million.

This newly created value is the basis for the increment, which will be paid out over the 27-year life of the project. These funds are reimbursements to the developer for public improvements, such as streets, sidewalks and utilities, as well as offsets for higher than expected costs related to the environmental problems at the site.

If the Common Council approves this financing amendment, the developer could take this promise of future payments to a private lender and trade it for an immediate infusion of cash, which would be used to supplement a traditional mortgage. The lender has not been publicly identified as yet.

The amendment would also allow the city to recoup additional administrative costs, up to $25,000 this year.

Another amendment, which would be the fourth in all, would cover environmental issues that are still being worked out between the city and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The staff memo said DNR has requested “additional environmental testing” but does not include specifics.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Council OKs closure of Oshkosh Avenue for up to 4 weeks

Photo by Miles Maguire
A motorcyclist turns off of Oshkosh Avenue onto Fox Street, one of two intersections to be closed next month. 
The Oshkosh Common Council approved the closing of Oshkosh Avenue for three to four weeks, starting around Oct. 1

 The closure will allow for work on sanitary sewers crossing under the intersections of Fox Avenue and Punhoqua Street.

 City staff said the contractor will try to coordinate the work at each location to minimize the closure time so that it may be as short as three weeks.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Oshkosh takes apartment lobbyist to court over repeated housing code violations

Photo by Miles Maguire
A 2017 inspection of this Mt. Vernon Street property turned up 11 violations, some of which ended up in court.
By Miles Maguire

The chairman of the Wisconsin Apartment Association has been hauled into court for more than two dozen Oshkosh housing code violations since 2016.

Chris Mokler, an Omro resident who is a registered lobbyist and also serves as WAA’s legislative director, is the legal agent for two companies that have been found guilty in Winnebago County Circuit Court on 12 charges dating back to August 2016.

A review of court records by the Oshkosh Examiner found only two occasions when his companies were found not guilty. In other cases charges were dismissed at the request of the city, which is often a sign that a settlement agreement has been reached.

A housing code violation is not a criminal offense, and the only punishment is a fine.

Mokler has been heavily involved in fights over rental inspection rules, which have played out in the state legislature, in Oshkosh City Hall and in federal court. In an email, he said he believes he has been targeted for his activity, a charge that the city strongly denies.

Mokler was part of a group that sued the city unsuccessfully over a planned rental inspection program.  In 2017 he served as treasurer for Citizens for a Better Oshkosh Inc., which spent $2,500 to promote the candidacy of four candidates who were challenging incumbents on the Common Council, including the mayor.

All four of those candidates had ties to the local real estate industry, elements of which were extremely upset about the city’s effort to improve rental housing conditions by more regular inspections. While none of those candidates was successful in 2017, one of them, Matt Mugerauer, was elected to a two-year term this spring.

In an interview, Mugerauer said he was not aware in advance of the steps Mokler had taken to promote his candidacy and that he preferred to speak for himself. He said real estate interests were upset not so much about the fact of the inspection program but because they felt they had been frozen out of the planning process.

Although the city has stepped up enforcement of housing code violations in the last two years, Mokler’s record stands out because the city rarely takes landlords to court.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Get ready for the Oshkosh Beer Bike

PedalPub LLC
This screen capture from the PedalPub website displays an example of a 12-passenger party bike.

By Miles Maguire
Get ready for the Oshkosh Beer Bike--a trolley-like contraption powered by its passengers and combining light exercise with the chance to get light-headed through the consumption of onboard beverages.

If all goes according to plan, and the Oshkosh Common Council gives its OK, city residents and visitors will have the chance to cycle and sip their way through the Sawdust District and adjoining neighborhoods as of next May.

They will be riding aboard a party bike, or in official city legalese, a “commercial quadricycle.” On the party bike, eight to 16 riders will get to pedal their way around while drinking beer they have previously purchased and brought on board.

“You can basically ride the streets and enjoy the downtown sights,” said City Manager Mark Rohloff.

City leaders have expressed their doubts about this kind of open-air drinking in the past, but it is legal under Wisconsin law. The only recourse to restrict party biking is to pass a local law, which is why city staff has put together a ordinance that will come before the council Tuesday.

Party bikes are “picking up a lot of interest,” Rohloff said. “It’s one of those cool community type of things,” he added. “We’ll certainly give it a shot.”