During a special meeting of the city’s Committee of the Whole last Monday evening, Mayor Bill Bialecki announced the city had been awarded a $417,250 grant from the state’s Idle Industrial Sites Redevelopment Program.
According to a press release from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the grant (awarded by WEDC) will be used to help fund a $1.4 million project to redevelop 19 acres of vacant industrial property along the Wisconsin River. The city’s Eastside Riverfront Redevelopment Project calls for demolishing the aging, idle buildings on site and clearing the land to make way for new development that will ultimately create jobs and increase the city’s tax base. The project also aims to put more of a focus on one of Merrill’s greatest assets: the Wisconsin River.
“This project provides Merrill with an outstanding opportunity for long-term economic development, and WEDC is pleased to assist the city in making it a reality,” said Reed Hall, secretary and CEO of WEDC, the state’s lead economic development organization. “The first step toward future development is eliminating the existing idle buildings on that property, and this grant will help the city do just that.”
“This project and grant are the result of a great deal of hard work by city staff and consultants,” said Merrill Mayor Bill Bialecki. “We look forward to the completion of this project to provide more additional jobs, tax base and recreational opportunities. We also thank WEDC for their assistance in making this project possible.”
WEDC’s Idle Industrial Sites Redevelopment Programs, created in 2013, stimulates investment and job creation in idle, abandoned and underutilized manufacturing sites that cannot be solely redeveloped by the private sector due to their scale and complexity.
The competitive program offers grants of up to $1 million to communities for the implementation of redevelopment plans for sites of 10 acres or more that have been idle, abandoned or underutilized for at least five years. The sites must have had at least 25 years of prior commercial or industrial usage to qualify.
The funds can be used for demolition, environmental remediation, or site-specific improvements defined in a redevelopment plan.
WEDC expects to award $3.4 million to municipalities in this round of funding, and more grant announcements will be made in coming weeks.
According to City Administrator Dave Johnson, the estimated $1.4 million project will address three properties targeted for demolition and re-development, as well as assist with key additions to the River Bend Trail.
The properties to be addressed are demolishing and redeveloping the current Page Milk Property, acquisition of the former Merrill Pavers property as well as removal of the existing water tower and foundations at the Anson Gilkey Property, and extending water and sewer lines into the property. In addition, funds will be used to create paved parking areas at Park and Kyes streets as part of the River Bend Trail.
Page Milk Company opened in 1925 and closed in 1973. Until the summer of 2014, D.C Motors LLC operated in a portion of the building.
“That building is without a doubt the most blighted building in the city of Merrill, and has been for quite some time,” Johnson said. “The city attempted to work with D.C. Motors to bring the building into compliance city ordinance, but the effort didn’t come to fruition.”
The company has since relocated, but still maintains ownership of the property. Johnson states the city is currently in the process of attempting to acquire the property for demolition and redevelopment.
“We are currently facing two key issues at the Page Milk property,” Johnson adds. “The property is full of asbestos and pigeon droppings. The pigeon droppings have mixed with the asbestos, so it is unclear just how much abatement will cost until the city can gain access to the building. As of now, we are ‘guesstimating’ $200,000 or more.
“The city’s vision for that property is to maintain industrial use, hence adding to the city tax base and create jobs. We pursued this grant to minimize tax dollars spent as much as possible, without this grant, the entire $1.4 million price tag for this re-development and demolition project would have fallen entirely on the shoulders of our tax payers. This grant is saving the city a great deal of money,” Johnson added.
Johnson further adds the remaining amount, in excess of $900,000, will be covered by TIF dollars. He also indicates a local business owner has expressed immediate interest in the property, but stated he could not give any further details.
The city has a tentative and rather aggressive demolition and development schedule in mind for the addressed properties.
“We are planning to start abatement this summer and hoping demolition to be completed before the end of the year,” Johnson explains. “We have the same plan in mind with removing the foundations at Anson Gilkey. The buildings are gone now, but the water tower and foundations must be removed. There has been a delay on removal of the tower due to AT&T having antennas on the tower. Those antennas will now be moved to the northeast corner of the property and will be leased for $1,000 a month. In turn, those funds will be reserved for River Bend Trail maintenance.”
During Monday’s meeting, Bialecki credited the success of the grant to the diligent and swift handling of the grant application by city employees.
“Last fall we filed for the grant to help with cleanup at the Anson Gilkey and Page Milk properties,” Bialecki explained. “We had a week and a half from the time we found out about the grant to complete the application and submit for review. Thanks to the hard work from a lot of fine folks, we got the application together. I may have signed this stuff, but all the credit goes to them. Without them and their hard work, this just would not have happened.
“It is such wonderful news to know we can get these properties cleaned up,” he said. “An added bonus is this grant freeing up nearly half a million of TIF dollars for other projects.”