Thursday, December 11, 2014

Myths and Facts About the Sale of O’Donnell Park


The debate continues: should Milwaukee County sell O'Donnell Park to Northwestern Mutual? My answer to that question remains NO. The board of supervisors is scheduled to rule on the current proposal on Dec. 18. Several supervisors have publicly voiced their opposition. Please tell your supervisor to join them. For a list of supervisors and contact info click here.

The following was compiled by Virginia Small:
Myth: O’Donnell Park drains Milwaukee County’s finances and must be sold to “relieve” the budget.
Fact:   Net annual revenue from O’Donnell leases and parking now exceeds $1.3 million and supports the upkeep of other Milwaukee parks. There are currently 900 monthly parkers as well as high income from 425 spaces reserved for daily parkers. O’Donnell could raise its rates by 20%, to offset any required maintenance above routine levels, and still stay competitive among parking structures in its immediate vicinity.
Myth: O’Donnell Park will need to be rebuilt in 18 years, so the County should sell it now, for pennies on the dollar, to avoid that projected cost. 
Fact:  The “useful life” of a facility is an accounting term used to calculate asset depreciation. Other County buildings with parking structures, such as the Milwaukee Art Museum, are not scheduled to be rebuilt within 40 years. The City’s 49-year-old MacArthur Square parking structure remains fully operational.
Myth: The parking facility at O’Donnell Park is dirty, decaying, and poorly lit, and needs a new owner to remedy those conditions.
Fact:   The parking facility received refurbishments totaling $5 million since 2011, and earns high marks from inspectors for cleanliness, upkeep and lighting. There’s a waiting list for monthly parking. However, up to one-third of the lights in O’Donnell’s garden plazas remain burnt-out. Bare-bones County Parks maintenance guidelines restrict replacement of bulbs for 80-some pole lights to once annually, in the spring.
Myth: Only Wisconsin’s wealthiest corporation can “preserve” O’Donnell Park.
Fact:   Government entities preserve most public parks and protect them in perpetuity. Private entities that “preserve parks for all” invariably do so through iron-clad deed restrictions or conservation agreements, neither of which are written into a proposed contract between the County and Northwestern Mutual.
Myth: Milwaukee County should declare O’Donnell Park “surplus” and sell it in a no-bid purchase.
Fact:   Milwaukee does not have too many parks. The Trust for Public Land, in its annual objective rating of cities and their parks, gave Milwaukee 10 points out of 20 points for park acreage per population in 2014. Property is sometimes deemed “surplus” when it ceases to have any use or value to the County. Parks are consistently proven to generate economic development and enhance neighboring property values.
Myth: Governments should reward large and long-standing employers by letting them buy public parks.
Fact:   The proposed buyer, Northwestern Mutual, has been given $73 million in tax credits from the City of Milwaukee to rebuild its headquarters in downtown Milwaukee. There are not enough parks in downtown Milwaukee to provide bonuses to every major business that chooses to rebuild or relocate there.
Myth: O’Donnell Park is not really a park. It’s just a small, insignificant plaza that no one uses.
Fact:   At 9.3 acres, this multi-use park with panoramic views of the lakefront and city is “huge” among downtown Milwaukee Parks, second only to Juneau (at 16__acres). Milwaukee’s  cultural gateway, it is a popular setting for taking photos, lunching, museum visits, weddings, catered events and watching fireworks. It is the defining culmination of Milwaukee’s “Grand Avenue” and has been a park since 1868.
Sources include official County and City data, attorney William Lynch’s legal analysis of the proposed sale contract, reputable journalistic reports and other research data.

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