Council looks at library plan

By JAMES KATES / Capstone Managing Editor

Whitewater Common Council members agreed Tuesday to explore a public/private partnership that could help build a new Whitewater Public Library.

The board voted to reach out to Troy J. Hoekstra of United Development Solutions, which recently broke ground for a hotel in Platteville that will include space for a library.

Under such a deal – which in Whitewater is only in the exploratory phase – the developer would build the project, lease about 25,000 square feet to the library for a seven-year term, then donate the space to the library after that.

As envisioned, the deal might cost the city about $4 million for a library that otherwise would cost $7 million to $8 million, City Manager Cameron Clapper said. The city’s cost would include initial funding of about $2.5 million and annual lease payments of about $250,000, Clapper told the council.

The incentive for the developer is the New Markets Tax Credits program, under which companies get federal tax breaks to build projects that create jobs in areas with comparatively weak economies.

The credits pay out over seven years, and investors would get a tax write-off by donating the space to the city afterward, Clapper said.

Stacey Lunsford, Irvin L. Young Memorial Library director since 2001, said the plan would meet the library’s space needs. A suitable city-funded expansion at the library’s current location, 431 W. Center St., would cost $10 million, which is beyond the city’s means, Lunsford said.

Hoekstra’s company wants to put the new project on Main Street near the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater campus, Lunsford told the council.

Some councilmembers, including Stephanie Goettl, questioned whether a proper location was available and whether the requirement for donation of the space after seven years could be made legally binding.

But Councilmember Christopher Grady said it was up to Hoekstra – or any other qualified developer – to perform “due diligence” to find a site and draft the agreement. Once that is done, the city can decide whether to move forward.

“I can’t imagine that we wouldn’t want to approach this with an open mind,” Councilmember Lynn Binnie added.

In other action Tuesday, the council:

  • Agreed to invite consulting firm Baker Tilly to make a presentation on a waste holding facility that would be added to the city’s wastewater treatment plant. The 25,000-gallon facility would accommodate high-strength waste that could be used to produce methane gas that the city could use in place of natural gas.

Clapper told the council that Baker Tilly could secure private investment in the facility, which would reduce the city’s up-front costs and long-term risk. Baker Tilly is confident that the project “is feasible, as are we,” Clapper said.

The council ultimately voted to reject plans that would have had the city build the $400,000 facility on its own.

Council President Patrick Singer wondered whether “ratepayers’ money might better be spent on some of the more urgent items” on the wastewater plant’s long list of needs.

  • Rejected a claim of $4,199.84 for sewer backup damage at 351 S. Summit St. The city was unaware of any blockages in the system prior to heavy rainfall last November and therefore is not liable for the damage that resulted, city staff said.
  • Voted to hold its April 19 meeting at UW-Whitewater’s University Center.