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City takes third look at proposal for a downtown complex
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MONROE - City officials made initial steps toward considering an apartment project proposed by MSP Real Estate for the third time Tuesday.

The project would be built in place of a public parking lot located at the corner of 8th Street and 16th Avenue.

Monroe Common Council decided to evaluate the way in which Tax Increment District 7 could invest in the project if the city wanted to move ahead with it. Alderman Michael Boyce suggested the topic for the next council meeting after hearing a report from City Administrator Phil Rath in which the investment could make returns before TID 7 ends in 2031, and whether another city TID could contribute funds for the $615,000 grant the city would offer in partnership with the project as a way to offset borrowing.

"I believe there may be some opportunity to donate to TID 7," Rath said.

With the investment, Rath said the city would see first tax value from the building in 2020. TID 7 is currently seeing positive growth, and the project could potentially gain funds for the TID depending on future inflation rates.

MSP Real Estate is based in Mendota Heights, Minnesota, but has offices in both Milwaukee and Madison. The company has constructed apartment buildings throughout communities in Wisconsin.

Originally, MSP Director of Development Mark Hammond presented plans for the 40-unit, three-story complex to replace the newly demolished municipal parking ramp beside the downtown Square in November. Business owners in the area requested that the building not be put in place in favor of more public parking in an area they see as already lacking parking spaces. They also expressed doubts in the figures submitted by the company.

Hammond returned two weeks later to propose the new location - the parking lot just north of the Green County Historical Museum - but was shot down once again upon council review of the financial investment the city would need to make.

In the new plan, no significant building details were changed. However, Hammond returned with a new offer in which the contribution by the City of Monroe would be nearly cut in half. At first request, the city contribution would have been roughly $1.125 million. Because of research into the Affordable Housing Program, Hammond said additional funds could be secured to lower the city's total investment to less than 10 percent of the approximately $6.231 million project. If borrowing through the program, Affordable Housing Tax Credits from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority and a grant from TID 7 can be secured, Hammond said construction would begin spring of 2018. Construction is expected to take about a year.

The development would help answer one of the Monroe Comprehensive Plan goals in the need for more housing as an available option to those living on a fixed income and those who are not. From one to three bedrooms, the apartments would have modern amenities, personal storage space and underground parking. Hammond said the project meets expressed needs.

But the loss of almost 100 public parking spaces has caused some disagreement. Alderwoman Brooke Bauman, who also serves as the Green County Historical Society president, said the addition of the dwelling essentially eliminates parking for the museum. The museum is open 1-4 p.m. Friday-Sunday and also accommodates school trips and special events at certain points throughout the year.

"Taking away all of that parking is obviously an issue with the board," Bauman said.

She added that she supports the inclusion of more housing and the MSP project specifically but questioned how much space will be left for the historical society and museum staff. Even if spaces were off limits for MSP residents, Bauman questioned whether residents would adhere to the rules put in place.

Hammond said the company would be happy to enter into a long-term agreement in which the landlords or the Monroe Police Department would ticket people who ignore the restriction.

"Shared parking is great land use policy, " Hammond said. "Clearly if you put a project on a parking lot where everyone's been parking for free, some people aren't going to love it. I just know from the parking study, anecdotally, it sure seems to be an underutilized parking lot."

Underground parking is built into the plan, with auxiliary parking spots also available on the surface for MSP renters.