May The Biggest Kickback Win

City officials in Milwaukee have a dilemma:

Developers want free money:

More than three years after the Park East Freeway spur was torn down, 16 acres of prime downtown land remain barren – and developers say it’s time for city officials to help make something happen there.

“There’s gridlock right now, and I’m concerned this thing is going to blow up,” said Gary Grunau, who is building the new Manpower Inc. headquarters, just north of the Park East area. “Somebody’s got to show some leadership.”

“Leadership,” of course, is a euphemism for “government giveaways to private business” in forms of tax abatement, zoning variations, and loan co-signing. Of course, this would be a no-brainer, as government officials tend to want to hump the legs of all developers they can.


Concerns about city financing for hotel projects have been raised by Greg Marcus, executive vice president of Marcus Corp., which operates three downtown hotels: InterContinental Milwaukee Hotel, Hilton Milwaukee City Center and the Pfister Hotel.

Marcus, in a March 6 letter to Mayor Tom Barrett, said efforts to “subsidize construction of hotel rooms without first stimulating demand for those rooms” will “simply siphon off demand from existing (privately financed) hotel rooms.”

It sounds like there’s trouble in paradise, right? Heavy hitters in the local industry making noises like this, sounding almost laissez-faire.

Aw, if I believed that, I wouldn’t be a good cynic. The government has enough favors for all fat cats. I expect the city of Milwaukee will cosign the loans for the speculative development and will throw sops to existing businesses, maybe even before they’re failing on account of the city’s meddling in a market economy. After all, there can never be too many cronies in crony capitalism.

Ah, Milwaukee. Briefly, you were more than St. Louis, but you’re in a hurry to sink to its post-industrial, post-unsupported business level.

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