Both the Community Development Authority and the Sussex Village Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to begin the process of purchasing 120 acres of farmland on the west end of Sussex, turning it into a new corporate park.
A community development grant totaling $60,000 will be paid to Brookfield developer MLG to begin surveying the land behind Kohl’s and Shopko, doing environmental studies and possibly completing the sale of the farmland with Johnson Bank, the current owner of the land.
Sussex officials stress they have the right to stop the process at any time, and the grant money is revenue from a former tax incremental financing district, not tax money from Sussex homeowners.
When filled with businesses, MLG estimates the business park will employ 1,500 people.
However, those details hasn’t stopped some residents from opposing the project altogether. Representatives from MLG have recently backed away from purchasing and developing the land privately, saying if Sussex still wants the new corporate park, the village alone will have to buy the land.
Pete Meissner, the former owner of the farmland, said he doesn’t understand the new deal.
"If this were a great idea, private money would have already done it. They’d be doing it right now."
“As a Sussex resident and taxpayer, I have some serious concerns with Sussex putting money up to purchase the land. We don’t have to look far west to find a similar deal that failed horribly," Meissner said, referring to the problems that the village of Menomonee Falls is having with the Radisson Hotel project. "If this were a great idea, private money would have already done it. They’d be doing it right now. If private money says, ‘We’re not going to touch it,’ why is the village going to touch it?”
And Meissner wasn’t the only one with concerns. Half a dozen Sussex and Lisbon residents addressed the board, questioning why they would put themselves at risk by buying the land.
Although the actual cost of the farmland is still under wraps, Village Administrator Jeremy Smith it has become “very typical” for a municipality to buy the land before a developer takes control.
And because the new corporate park would be located within a TIF district, the money will be paid back through corporate tax revenues.
“This is just the first step in the process, and it’s a relatively limited first step toward a multimillion dollar project with protections for the village, and with a benefit that if we move forward, the developer will pay back the $60,000 to the CDA for future projects,” Smith explained.
However, the project does have a sense of urgency both Sussex officials and MLG employees are attempting to meet.
Johnson Bank says Sussex has a competing offer on the land, and there is a Sept. 28 deadline to make an offer on the property. That means there’s limited time to study the land and determine whether a TIF district should be used for the project.
In addition, every September local municipalities reclassify the purpose of land. With the area behind Kohl’s and Shopko still classified as farmland rather than commercial real estate, there are tax incentives to purchasing it now.
"I think it’s safe to say we’ve given this community plenty of opportunity to show we know what we’re doing.”
Purchasing the farm land and improving it with things like streets, sewer and lights would be financed by the village's sixth TIF district. Under TIF district financing, the assessed value of the land is frozen for taxing purposes. As the value increases because of new development, any additional tax dollars generated from that increase go toward paying off the initial investment.
Before the Village Board voted, MLG Chairmain Michael Moody outlined his long history with Sussex, saying he’s worked with the last five village presidents. He said southeastern Wisconsin, especially in Waukesha County, is short on industrial land, and with Gov. Walker’s recent win, business owners are finally going to be ready to expand.
“I think what happened on Wisconsin on Tuesday is going to loosen businesses,” Moody said. “Companies that need to buy a site – they needed it two years ago, meaning they’re looking for something to be ready tomorrow… I think it’s safe to say we’ve given this community plenty of opportunity to show we know what we’re doing.”
Moody and his team at MLG have developed numerous other areas in Sussex, including the Seven Stones and Eagle’s Ridge subdivisions, and the current corporate park on the corner of Hwy 164 and Lisbon Road. Village President Greg Goetz says, based on their track record, he has faith this will succeed.
“MLG has been involved with the village for many years, and they have the connections, the resources, the know-how to make this successful,” Goetz said. “They’re in the market, they know the trends, and they know how to do it. I have all the confidence in the world that they can do this.”
The Community Development Authority will discuss the next steps in surveying the land, including the potential risks Sussex might face if it purchased the land, at its June 21 meeting.