Zielinski Works to Persuade Petition Signers to Withdraw

May 31, 2018

By Katherine Keller

Kinnickinnic BID Termination Quest May Fail

The efforts of two Bay View property owners to terminate the Kinnickinnic Avenue Business Improvement District may have been in vain.

Ada Duffey and David Brazeau successfully gathered sufficient petition signatures to trigger city of Milwaukee officials to begin the legal process to terminate the KK BID. But last week they discovered that since they filed their petition, Ald. Tony Zielinski has been quietly working to persuade property owners to withdraw their signatures, in an effort to defeat Duffey and Brazeau.

Zielinski conducted the original petition drive to establish the BID in 2009.

Earlier this year, he told the Compass he would support the decision of the BID members. “It is the right for an area to say we don’t want this tool. I support the wishes of the impacted area. While a great many parts of the city support this tool, our area may be the exception,” he said. He added that if the BID was terminated, he did not plan to attempt to revive it. 

A provision in the Wisconsin statutes that governs business improvement districts permits signers to take back their signatures within a prescribed period after a petition is filed with the City Plan Commission.

Not long after Duffey and Brazeau filed their petitions, Zielinski began talking with some of the petition signers including Waqar Hussain, who owns the BP station, 2023 S. Kinnickinnic, and Amarjit Virk, who owns Siegel’s Liquor, 2632 S. Kinnickinnic. Both are dependent on city licenses that permit them to operate their businesses. The annual license applications are approved or denied by the Common Council’s Licenses Committee, chaired by Zielinski.

Virk said he preferred not to comment about his decision to withdraw his signature and Hussain didn’t respond to the Compass‘ request for comment.

Duffey said that Tim Olson, who owns a number of properties in the district, told her that he would also withdraw the petition signatures for his BID properties.

Duffey cries foul

“It appears that Tony is using his influence to get people to change their minds, she said. “It is curious, that at least two people that initially signed the petition now are against it.

“Prior to starting to circulate the petition, I called Tony (Zielinski) and told him what we were going to do,” Duffey said. “His response was that he respected our right to do it. He did not say, ‘Do not do it because it is a waste of your time and I will be working against you.’ If he would have, we would have not even started because how can we win against someone that approves and has influence over permits and licenses?

“After we submitted our petitions that met the requirements, we asked for a meeting with Tony to keep him up to date. We met with him April 26. We again explained our grievances and the additional ones we learned about from the people that we contacted. At no time during that conversation did he state that he was going to be contacting anyone that had signed the petition. When people signed, we did not prepare them for having someone visit them and pressure them into taking back their signature.”

Zielinski disputes Duffey’s assertion.

“I did not change my mind,” Zielinski said. “[The KK BID] is a voluntary association and when the final votes are in I will support the majority. The vote is not complete yet. I am a supporter of the BID but that is not the same thing as saying I won’t support the will of the majority.” 

He would not comment further when the Compass asked him about his personal effort to persuade BID members to withdraw their signatures. 

Kenneth Little also knew of Zielinski’s endeavor. “I am aware that the alderman has had some conversations with folk about the BID termination and some of those have rescinded their initial petition signature,” he said.

BID property owners pay an additional tax assessment that is funneled to the respective BIDs, and for many BIDs that funding is a large, if not the sole source of its operating revenue.

Per Wisconsin statutes that govern business improvement districts, a city must terminate a BID if petition signatures are filed by owners of properties whose combined value is more than 50 percent of the total value of all the properties in the BID.

Kenneth Little, Commercial Corridor Manager for the Department of City Development, said the total assessable property in the KK BID is $62,316,198. The actual value of the property is $87,746,000, but residential portions of a commercial property are not assessable. If the KK BID is not terminated, it will receive $44,392 this year. 

The Commercial Corridor Team is responsible for oversight of the BID activities. “We review BIDS for compliance with all mentioned issues such as submittal of audits, minutes, operating plans, status of board membership, and meetings,” Little said.

Duffey and Brazeau’s petitions were officially filed with the City Plan Commission May 7 and a hearing will be held June 4 by the commission, the next step in the process triggered by the petitions.

Following the hearing, both sides have 30 days to gather more signatures of those who support terminating the BID or those who decided to withdraw their signatures.

Little said that there are 226 assessable properties in the KK BID and that Duffey and Brazeau submitted petitions representing 122 of those properties.

Brazeau said that the City Plan Commission flagged 18 of the signatures.

“There have been some issues with validation of some of the signatures,” Little confirmed. “Generally, discrepancies are related to not being able to match the signature to the registered owners of the property or in the case of LLCs, the proper authority/agent to sign on behalf on the LLC.”

He said Brazeau, Duffey, and the KK BID board members were notified to allow them to provide additional clarifying information.

Lee Barczak, KK BID president is pleased that some property owners have decided to withdraw their signatures. He hopes that others will do the same so that the BID survives.

Within the past few months, he recruited four new board members and needs one more in order to fill all seven seats. The BID has operated for more than a year with an incomplete board. Numerous BID meetings were canceled in the past 18 months because there were too few members to form the voting quorum required by its bylaws.

“There is a lack of participation by the board. Only two meetings were held in 2017. Three meetings were cancelled due to board members not attending. There clearly is a lack of interest in the BID from the building owners. It has been years since a fellow building owner attended a meeting, besides Dave Brazeau and me. Typically, there are two to four people in the audience.” The BID canceled each of its scheduled meetings this year.”

Buoyed by the newly established board, Barczak, who owns the Avalon Theater, has a number of projects in mind that he thinks would benefit the BID, whose mission is to improve the property values of its members through activities and improvements that enhance the district.

Marketing and branding the Kinnickinnic business corridor is a primary goal. In order to do that, he would recommend that an outside vendor be hired to create and implement it. Barczak stressed that the board and committee members are all unpaid volunteers with limited time to commit to the BID. 

He would like the BID to fill the void created when the South Shore Frolics organizers were no longer able to include the beloved Frolics Parade that was part of the annual festival for decades. One idea would be to stage a light parade that would be held after dark.

Another project would be designed to draw people to the district with a series of concerts called Music on KK Weekends, Barczak said. Musicians would perform within business spaces, not restricted to bars and restaurants, up and down the corridor, which would also serve as an overt effort to satisfy property owners south of Oklahoma Avenue who have long complained that the BID board ignores them.

Barczak said that he would urge the board to accept a combined $350,000 grant and loan from the city to fund projects like the parade, concerts, and the marketing and branding endeavor. In the past he was unwilling to commit to the loan because the city would not allow it to be prepaid. Since the payoff term was 20 years, the BID would be locked in until the loan was paid off. He learned since that the loan can be paid off early and is now in favor of the BID accepting the funding.

Duffey is skeptical. “We are not hopeful of ‘new management.’ We have seen numerous board members come and go. They appear to be handpicked by Tony Zielinski and Lee Barczak,” she said. 

“People are naive to think others are going to act in their best interest without any oversight or involvement from themselves,” noting that on average fewer than three property owners attend a BID meeting.

She and Brazeau are also opposed to an increase in the BID assessment that Barczak has proposed. 

Barczak said he is in favor of increasing the BID assessment rate.

Currently BID property owners are assessed $1 per $1,000 of the assessed value, with a minimum assessment of $100 and maximum of $1,000. If the BID survives, Barczak said the board would set a budget based on the projects it elected to pursue. In addition to the $350,000 grant/loan, he would advocate for an increase in the assessment to fund them.

Barczak cries foul

Barczak bristled when some BID members contacted him to tell them they were upset that he was pushing for a fivefold assessment increase.

He told them he was misrepresented, explaining that when he broached the increase at a board meeting, he used the five percent figure, as an example, not a recommendation, to illustrate the increase in the amount of the assessment disbursement the BID would receive.

In their appeal urging BID members to sign the petition to terminate, Duffey and Brazeau mailed a postcard that included a bullet point that read, “The Bay View Business Improvement District board will be voting soon to raise your contribution by 500%!” 

Barczak said some planned to withdraw their signatures, after he assured them the five percent figure was strictly an example.

What’s next?

There is a 30 day period after the June 4 City Plan Commission hearing to gather more signatures.

Barczak, Duffey, Brazeau, and Kenneth Little all say the outcome is too close to call but are confident that proponents on each side will be talking with property owners in their bid to prevail.

The outcome will be determined July 5.

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