To solve Janesville’s housing shortage, two real estate developers encouraged the city to consider using tax increment financing to spark new residential activity.
That suggestion was one of the biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s community housing and development forum. The city and Forward Janesville co-sponsored the event at the Pontiac Convention Center.
The forum, which drew about 75 people, explored the city’s need for multiple types of housing. It included a small-group brainstorming session, but when the event ran long, organizers decided to table the groups’ sharing of ideas for another date.
During an opening panel, Hovde Properties President Mike Slavish said developers are disinclined to build here because rents are so low. In downtown Madison, where Hovde is based, rents run between $2 and $2.50 per square foot.
In Janesville, that number is about 87 cents. But construction costs are generally the same between the cities, so it’s tough for developers to see a return on their investment—unless they’re receiving some sort of public incentive, he said.
Slavish proposed a pay-as-you-go TIF deal. The landowner would pay taxes, and the municipality would return a percentage of that payment, he said.
In Waunakee, Hovde negotiated a deal in which the city returned 85 percent of the project’s tax payment in the first decade after construction, and then 65 percent in years 11 through 20, Slavish said.
“The great thing about that is the municipality spends none of their own money. The developer pays them, and then they kick back a portion of that,” he said. “It’s really a pretty simple structure. It’s utilized by a lot of communities throughout the state of Wisconsin.”
In a particularly strong statement, Brent Dahlstrom of the Iowa-based Echo Development Group said his company likely wouldn’t consider building in a market if that municipality wasn’t willing to provide a financial break.
Echo does a lot of projects in Waterloo, Iowa, a city with similar population to Janesville.
But tax increment financing for residential projects isn’t common here. Economic Development Director Gale Price said the city hasn’t done such a deal since 1999 for the Marshall Apartments on South Main Street.
Price emphasized he could speak only for himself when it comes to TIF packages and said the council and city manager would have to lead that discussion.
Any consideration of a TIF deal would need to follow guidelines for the city’s past commercial and industrial TIF deals, he said.
But his comments after the forum indicated a philosophical change could be on the horizon.
“That’s the beauty of the housing discussion is that it has an ancillary effect. It’s not just about that value in the ground. It’s about retaining the talent,” Price said.
“How do we fix that? How do we fill that gap? Can we do it with TIF? Can we do it with changing some of our regulations, thinking more creatively about housing?”
The closing of the General Motors plant is part of the reason Janesville lacks apartments. Developers expected the city’s population to decline, so they didn’t bother to build new rental units, Price said.
But while the city lost a major employer, it still gained residents after GM’s shutdown.
Slavish said tax increment financing helps projects come to fruition that otherwise would not have the incentive.
Hovde bought the Woodsview Apartments in Janesville after the property fell into foreclosure. To develop additional projects here, the company needs to get more assistance from the city, Slavish said.
“I think the city council staff really needs to wrestle with a potential change in their policy. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’re going to keep getting what you’re getting,” he said. “Developers don’t have an unlimited source of cash. They have to pick and choose where they think they can get their best investments. TIF is a game-changer.”
It’s clear Janesville has a need for more housing stock, especially rentals. Last year, The Gazette reported the local rental vacancy rate was hovering at about 2 percent.
Though the city faces a short-term housing challenge, it has a healthy long-term outlook, Price said. The city has multiple options to stimulate residential development and maintain its gradual post-recession recovery.
“I think we’re going to continue that momentum,” he said. “Janesville is a desirable place to live. It’s got opportunities in and of itself and opportunities in Madison or Rockford. It makes it a good starting point to go either way.”
The magic of Makenna Barry might be her gratitude.
Or maybe it’s her empathy—her ability to transform bad experiences into kindness for others instead of anger.
Or perhaps it is her willingness to see and articulate the other side of a story.
Whatever it is, Makenna’s teachers at Rock University High School recognized that magic and picked her as the school’s standout senior.
Makenna will graduate Saturday. She wants to attend school for welding, but first she plans to work to pay off her car and save for college.
For the first two and half years of high school, Makenna went to Craig.
“Not to bash on them, but I was miserable there,” she said. “It wasn’t the right fit.”
She didn’t like attending school for eight hours, and she thought her classes were tailored to taking a test and passing it. It was both too easy to learn and too hard to be there.
Then there was the bullying. Her taste in clothes and hair suits her perfectly, but she doesn’t dress the way most high school girls do.
Many of her middle school friends ended up in other high schools, and she felt alone.
She went from being an A/B student to being a C/D/F student.
“It got so bad that my mom would have to fight with me every day to get up and go to school,” Makenna said. “I got a warning that if I didn’t come to school more I’d get a truancy ticket.”
In the middle of her junior year, Makenna transferred to Rock University High School, a Janesville School District charter school located in Blackhawk Technical College.
“There isn’t that bullying thing here,” she said. “There are people that get into arguments; they get into disputes, and there’s drama—well, it’s high school, so there’s going to be drama. But it’s dealt with in a much better way.”
When she talks about her teachers’ kindness and encouragement, she starts to cry.
“I was here for like a week and a half when I got an email from my teachers telling me how well I was adjusting,” she said, her voice breaking. “They care about you so much, and not just about your grades. They care about what’s going on in your personal life, too.”
Other students reached out to her when she arrived at school.
“By the end of first semester, I had so many friends,” she said. “When I came here, I had people walking up to me, asking me about myself, asking me if I liked it here.”
It might have been her personality or it might have been her life experiences—whatever the reason, Makenna became a quiet leader in school.
Makenna was always “the voice of reason in class,” said Angie Kerr, Rock University High School dean.
“When her peers are having a bad day or saying something isn’t fair, she always steps up,” Kerr said. “She’ll say, ‘Look at what you are doing or look at what they’ve done for you.’”
Sometimes, kids who have been bullied want to hunker down and avoid taking risks.
“She just gets out there,” Kerr said. “If I post an opportunity, like junkyard wars (a welding contest), she’ll be like, ‘I wanna do that.’ If there’s a field trip another school is taking and there are a few seats for our kids, she’ll say, ‘I wanna go.’”
After her interview with a Gazette reporter, Makenna pleaded with the reporter to include a special message in her story.
It was, of course, one of gratitude and addressed to her mom and stepdad, Jamy and Aric Larum, “for always being here and supporting me. I love you both forever and always, no matter what.”
In a break with President Donald Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Wednesday he agrees there is no evidence the FBI planted a “spy” in Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign in an effort to hurt his chances at the polls.
He also issued a careful warning about Trump’s recent assertion that he has the authority to pardon himself.
“I don’t know the technical answer to that question, but I think obviously the answer is he shouldn’t and no one is above the law,” Ryan told reporters Wednesday.
The comments come after Trump insisted in a series of angry tweets last month that the agency planted a spy “to help Crooked Hillary win,” referring to his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
There is a growing sense that Republicans are uncomfortable with those statements. Ryan, R-Wis., is one of three congressional Republicans who have now contradicted Trump on the spying matter, including House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C.
Ryan, Gowdy and Burr all attended classified briefings on the matter late last month, following reports that the FBI used an informant in its Russian election meddling investigation to speak to members of the Trump campaign who had possible connections to Russia.
The Department of Justice held two briefings on Trump’s orders after House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., had asked for documents concerning the informant. Trump said it was “starting to look like one of the biggest political scandals in U.S. history.”
Gowdy said afterward that the FBI was doing its duty.
“I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do when they got the information they got,” Gowdy said on Fox News last week. “And that it has nothing to do with Donald Trump.”
Gowdy added, in a separate interview on CBS, that such informants are used all the time and “the FBI, if they were at the table this morning, they would tell you that Russia was the target and Russia’s intentions toward our country were the target.”
Ryan told reporters on Wednesday that he thinks Gowdy’s “initial assessment is accurate,” and he has seen “no evidence to the contrary” of what Gowdy said.
Hours after Ryan’s comments, Burr told The Associated Press that he, too, agreed with Gowdy.
“I have no disagreement with the description Trey Gowdy gave,” Burr said.
Democrats made similar comments immediately after the briefing. In a joint statement, the four Democrats who attended said “there is no evidence to support any allegation that the FBI or any intelligence agency placed a ‘spy’ in the Trump Campaign, or otherwise failed to follow appropriate procedures and protocols.”
That statement was issued by Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, and the top Democrats on the Senate and House intelligence panels, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia and Rep. Adam Schiff of California.
Despite the statements, some House lawmakers might continue to pursue the issue. Ryan said Congress has “more digging to do” and that he wished they had gotten the information earlier. Nunes has said the committee is still waiting for documents, and Ryan backed him on that Wednesday.
“We have some more documents to review. We still have some unanswered questions,” Ryan said.
Burr, however, appeared ready to move on, saying the briefing he attended “sufficiently covered everything to do with this right now.”
On the pardon issue, Ryan joined Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in sending a subtle message to Trump.
Trump recently said he has the “absolute right” to pardon himself if it were necessary—which Trump says it won’t be, because “I have done nothing wrong.”
McConnell said Tuesday the question of whether Trump has legal authority to pardon himself is “an academic discussion,” but Trump “obviously knows that would not be something that he would or should do.”
Local • 3A, 5A, 8A
SHINE gives progress report
SHINE Medical Technologies is on pace to break ground on its medical radioisotope production facility in Janesville later this summer, CEO Greg Piefer said Wednesday, saying the company is pivoting from project engineering to construction. Piefer said SHINE later this week will start moving particle accelerator prototype equipment into a demonstration facility that SHINE finished building earlier this year.
Incorporation push continues
The Beloit Town Board has approved spending $25,000 to apply for permission to incorporate as a village, finalizing months of paperwork and advancing its petition to the state Incorporation Review Board. The review process could take up to six months, according to the release.
State • 2A
Walker: Work will stay on track
The state of Wisconsin will be receiving $86 million less than what it requested from the federal government to pay for upgrades and expansion of Interstate 94 south of Milwaukee, but Gov. Scott Walker said Wednesday work will still be done by 2021.
nation/world • 7b-8b
Senators target tariff rule
A bipartisan group of 10 senators introduced longshot legislation Wednesday that would require Congress to sign off on tariffs imposed in the name of national security, defying President Donald Trump on a bedrock issue that once defined the GOP. Congressional Republicans are mostly at odds with what they view as Trump’s protectionist instincts on trade.