Mayor Q&A: TID #12 and the KC Hall Hotel Development Project

OnFocus spoke with Mayor Bob McManus to get insight on the new tax increment district No. 12 (TID #12), the proposed 86-room Hampton hotel project which will replace the empty Knights of Columbus Hall at 400 W. Upham Street, and how the public can best voice their concerns.

Timeline:
12/31/17: Knights of Columbus Hall closes its doors, citing fewer bookings.
10/22/18: Council approves entering an agreement with Redevelopment Resources for the creation of a new TIF district on the property. Previously, no tax revenue was generated due to the nonprofit status of KC Hall.
11/13/18: Council approves transferring $15,000 in funds from the permanent employee straight time budget to create the district.
12/10/18: Plans are presented to the Joint Review Board for the $5.2 million, 86-room hotel.
12/18/18: Plan Commission approves the creation of Tax Increment District #12 which the development would be based on.
12/18/18: Minutes from Plan Commission read out loud at Common Council in the consent agenda, no action taken.
12/19/18: The developer releases details to the public, revealing the hotel chain as Hampton Inn & Suites and listing amenities.

Next meetings:
January 8 (Common Council)
January 15 (Plan Commission – Developer Presentation)

Do you have any concerns about the current public knowledge of the development?

What’s interesting is we have a lot of different ways that we get that out. That’s what we’re looking to do once we get a new communications system in place which won’t be until – effectively April 1 –  but we’re going to begin the process in January. We’re just going to be able to do a much better job at getting things out. But for instance, we have great media partners.

All of the City meetings are on the City website. When you go to Meetings, you can pick any particular one. There are several different ones. Common Council for instance, you can actually go there and take a look at the Common Council meetings. It will show the agenda and everything else.

Common Council meetings are the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month at 6 p.m. at City Hall. Normally the agendas for those meetings are out the Friday before – that’s the way we’ve done it for years. Nothing from that standpoint has changed.

We’ve also had some good help from our media partners and them getting it out, but I understand that people in the public are busy, they’re working every day, so maybe they didn’t see it in the paper or on the different social media outlets, or on the radio. We have to find a way to get that better so that more people are aware of this. But this is why, as I’ve said earlier, it’s very important for public input at these meetings, so I’m hoping to get a better word out to the public.

[The public can give input at the January 8 Common Council meeting and January 15 Plan Commission meeting]

I hope we get some good turnout there. We’ve had so far since last week – I’ve personally received two emails. We had one person actually come to the meeting, and their concern was an interesting concern. I had a chance to talk to them immediately following the meeting, and then I went over by their house the following morning. Their concern is, they don’t want sidewalks. They didn’t have a concern necessarily on the development, but they didn’t want curb and gutter on their side of the street. So we went back and forth with that. That as well will be a public hearing once it gets to that point on what needs to be done. And of course all those people that are affected by streets or anything like that, they get a written notice to their house.

Since then, I’ve had a couple emails on concerns, and I’ve expressed basically what I’ve expressed here: come to the meeting, voice your opinion, which is very important to do because with the different media outlets that there are, all of them very good, there are some people that are on the Council that are not on social media, so they don’t necessarily see the comments. That’s why it’s so important for the public to be involved and come and issue their concerns, voice their opposition, voice their appreciation for it, because there has been a pretty fair amount of support for it. Every voice is appropriate to be heard.

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Have you, City staff, or members of the Plan Commission spoken with the school district or the Marshfield Clinic about the location of this development? Do they have any concerns?

I have not yet. Again, this is a buyer and a seller that came to an agreement, and the developer is looking to put in development. I’ve not gone there, I’m not sure if [City staff] has. When we get to where the developer comes to the Plan Commission [Jan. 15], there are concerns that are going to be raised. The proximity to a school, that’s a concern. We want to hear what their resolution to that is, or what their knowledge of that is. Do they have other hotels of that size close to schools and do they experience any issues? The traffic that’s going up and down that street, how are they going to alleviate that?

We do know the traffic patterns for hotels is different. Many times the check-ins are after 4 o’clock. But we’ve got concerns with that. All those concerns and some of the others that I’ve heard from some folks, we’re going to be bringing that up. When the developer comes to the Plan Commission, all of those things will be discussed. Certainly if I get any more input from citizens that call in to talk to me or send me emails, I’m jotting these concerns down so that even if they’re not there, at least their concern is voiced. I think that’s the most important part.

The hotel isn’t a “done deal” yet. How is the City going to communicate to the citizens all of the opportunities they still have to come to a meeting and express their concerns, or reach out to you or other Council members?

There are a couple things we’re going to do. I’m going to put it on my Mayor Bob McManus [Facebook] Page. With the City, we’re going to ask our media partner MCTV to post this, because we have 3 channels that people go to, our cable access, so it would be very good from an information standpoint if that was posted on cable access, so people there are aware of it.

Our media partners, I’m hoping they will make publication of the times that are available to come because people absolutely can still come. The part that’s been approved at this point is the opening of the TIF district. There are still some things to go here, and a lot of concerns that are going to be raised, that we need to get some good answers to.

What are the next opportunities where people can express their concerns?

Common Council meeting, January 8 at 6 p.m., City Hall, Public Comment period at start of meeting. Information presented on the TIF District.

Plan Commission, January 15 at 7 p.m., City Hall. Developer presentation.

What I can assure the public is, you know, send an email to me. Send an email to your Alderman. Come to the meeting and voice it there. We want to hear the public input.

I’m on social media so I do see many of the comments, and there are some comments on there – people have concerns, and they’re valid concerns. I also see some proponents on there that appreciate the progress. Everyone’s opinion should be heard.

Regarding comments on Facebook, are you concerned that so many people seem to be surprised that this happened?

Am I surprised? You know, the people out in the public are working hard. There’s nothing about the meetings that have taken place regarding this that are any different than anything else the Common Council does. Now I do know this: Going to our website, you do have to navigate it, it’s going to take a couple minutes, but everything is there that’s exactly the same as every other meeting on all the important issues that we talk about.

If you notice some of the comments, there are some people there that think the City bought this property. That’s not the case. There’s not a lot you can do about that kind of misinformation, or maybe misunderstanding about it. All we can do at the City is continue to put the meetings out. Our Common Council meetings are the 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. The agendas for every Common Council meeting are out the Friday before, typically, so this gives the Aldermen and the public and our media partners all time to review everything that’s out there.

With this meeting coming up, there’s certainly sensitivity to this. We’re going to do a good job of getting this out there. Today’s the 20th. That means that first meeting is 19 days away. What I’m hopeful for is that’s going to be enough notice for people to be able maybe to get off work or send us a letter that we can read so all the Aldermen who are not on social media or don’t look at certain platforms, they can hear what it is. If just one person gets it, or it goes on a platform that many on the Council – maybe they’re not on certain platforms – then they don’t get the benefit of seeing the concerns. Speak to your Alderman, for sure.

We’re doing everything we can to get the information out. Having said that, we’re also sensitive to the fact that the citizens of Marshfield are out working. They’re out doing their job on a daily basis. Do they want to go to the City website, or do they pick up a paper? There are some citizens out there who have no social media at all. We’re hoping as we get our communications department up and functional, we’re going to be able to get out more people and help with this, because it’s as frustrating to me as it is to you. Certainly the citizens of Marshfield feel they didn’t have the information because we really are doing everything possible to get that information out.

Do you think there’s anything the City or you personally could have done to better inform the public of the development and their opportunities to speak to the Council and to the Plan Commission on this?

No. The development and what has taken place was from a seller and a buyer that came to an agreement. Now we’re to the place where what we’ve done right now is – the Council has not approved it yet – the Plan Commission has approved…It also went on the consent agenda for the Council. So we’ve got 18 days until that meeting, then another 21 days after that until the actual developer comes and makes the presentation and of course that’s where the public, I’d say with everything going on, that that’s the big one.

Number one, you’ll have the developer right there, so we can ask those important questions that we’ve had: the proximity to a school, what’s this going to do for traffic? Are there different concerns on things that take place?

If people come to that – that’s three weeks away – you’ll have the Common Council there that people can voice their concerns to and the developer there to answer it. I think it will be a very positive thing.

I’m hoping then that our public will be able to be out there. We are going to continue to do this, we’ll get in on the City Facebook page, we’ll also put it on my Mayor Bob McManus Facebook page. I know our media partners have articles out on this. On one of our media partners that put it out, I went in on that platform and put down the dates of the upcoming meetings and showed the history of how we tried to get the word out.

There are people out there that really feel that these were secret meetings and everything was there – that just couldn’t even be further from the truth. Maybe it wasn’t on platforms they go on normally, maybe they didn’t get the paper. We really don’t know. It’s been in the newspaper, it’s been on social media platforms, it’s been on the radio, it’s on the City website, so we really are doing everything we can do get it out because we want to hear the concerns of the public.

To show how sensitive the City is to the public and their concerns – there was an issue several months ago on the property over at 8th and Hemlock, and citizens came. They had dialogue with the Council. After those meetings I went over and we watched road patterns. A lot was done. The police was over there, we had our Street Department over there looking at different ways to alleviate the issue. All of that came from great public input, and that’s the power that the public has, but that power is when they come to the Council so everyone can actually hear what the concerns are. If you don’t hear what the concerns are, there’s not a lot you can do about them.