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This Just In ...

Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.

THE TOP TEN FRANKLIN STORIES OF 2012: #4

THE TOP TEN FRANKLIN STORIES OF 2012

 
Do you hear that, Franklin?

Tick, tick, tick.

The clock keeps moving.

No, not the countdown to our going over the fiscal cliff.

Will Meijer build a store in Franklin or not?

Franklin’s quest to attract Meijer’s to build one of their successful stores here has been a complete debacle. I’m not surprised.

When it comes to luring businesses and economic development, Franklin has a dreary obstructionist history of being the tortoise rather than the hare. Without exception, city of Franklin officials have been in complete and utter denial about this dismal track record, making all kinds of excuses for our sorry inability to attract job creators on a consistent and reasonably timed basis.

Let’s go back to the beginning. April 2012.


Meijer Inc., Grand Rapids, Mich., is planning a 191,000-square-foot store in Franklin.



The Milwaukee Business Journal  reported that Meijer was planning to open one of its huge big box stores in Franklin at the Crossroads site at Highway 100 and Loomis.  I blogged:

“Meijer would provide Franklin consumers (who currently live in a desert of shopping options) another retail choice. The nearby Target would face competition. That's good news, not bad…It's very early in the process but keep in mind Franklin fails when it comes to economic development. Watch for the city to do everything in its power, even if it's unintentional, to mess this up.”

May 17, 2012. An open house is held for informational purposes. To inform about the open house, Alderman Steve Olson sent out a notice that read, in part:

Meijer is a family-owned company based in Grand Rapids, MI which operates over 190 stores in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. Meijer is now evaluating opportunities to enter the Wisconsin market with the Franklin site to be among one of the first stores.

Meijer started in 1934 as a grocery store chain but now offers a complete one-stop shopping experience in over 40 other departments including grocery, health and beauty care, fashion, automotive, home decor, pharmacy, electronics, pets and more. Meijer’s focus is on delivering higher standards to customers at lower prices. The high standards carry through from the customer service in its stores to the quality of the merchandise itself. Meijer operates its stores 24/7 which is part of the founding family’s dedication to customer service. More information about Meijer can be found at http://www.meijer.com/

Meijer is currently under contract on the subject property. If the project proceeds, it will result in the demolition of the dilapidated structures, including the closed Illusions nightclub.

On Thursday evening, Meijer will display the updated Site Plan, the Exterior Elevations (architectural design) and other materials. To summarize a few key elements, our plans include:

• A sizeable stormwater detention pond (designed to enhance the water quality at discharge) that will be surrounded by landscaped site amenities,

• A signature landscaping feature at the northeast corner of Loomis & St. Martin’s.

• Proposed total landscaping of approximately 61% which exceeds the zoning code requirement of 40%.

• Installation of a traffic signal for the main vehicle entrance on Loomis Road on the north side of the site.

• Reconfiguration of the Puetz/St. Martin’s intersection per the DOT’s plans.

• Locating the truck loading docks on the north end of the building as far away as possible from residential properties.

• Bringing 200-250 new jobs to the community.

• Enhancing the City’s tax base though investment in an underutilized property resulting in additional tax revenues for the City and School District.


More hearings. More delays.

And Franklin was divided. Here are comments left on my blog and FranklinNOW.com:


“So they wouldn't allow a Wal-Mart but now they will give permission to Meijers? As far as I can tell they are the same. This is just another example of how f*****g stupid Franklin officials are. Grrrrrrrrrrrr”

“I sure hope this is rejected by the community. (GRIN) I really love the Cross Roads just the way it is, with it's incredible gas stations, it's luxurious abandoned restaurant and all that prairie style landscaping. (GRIN) After all with it being open 24 hours ‘those’ people" are going to end up there. You know what happens when ‘those people’ come to shop! You guessed it, they are going to break into all the houses in the area and steal all their stuff. (GRIN)”

“Let's not bury our heads in the sand. This is 2012 and the "country" days of Franklin and other communities in the area are long gone. We need this project to happen in an effort to keep development and commercial growth moving forward in our city. So what if you have several other grocery store options within a few miles. A corporation like Meijer does their homework and obviously they are not concerned about being successful in Franklin. It's a huge step to build your first store in the Wisconsin, and we should be welcoming them with open arms. Unlike Ms. Anderson in the story, I hope to God this attracts other businesses and development. We NEED more development to create jobs and to help our dreadful tax situation. And let's not forget...I don't see a line outside City Hall with corporations beating down the doors wanting to build at that location, or in the city in general. This is a great opportunity and I sincerely hope the city leaders and residents keep an open mind and work TOGETHER with Meijer to make this a reality.”


Fliers were left in Franklin mailboxes near the proposed Meijer’s site that contained all the usual (phony) arguments among the scare tactics, none of them substantiated or based in fact.


Photo: Just got this flier on my mailbox today. I'm somewhat concerned about the assertions and assumptions being made about this project. Fun Fact: When Target was proposed back in 2008 (I believe), the wealthier residents living directly across from Target had similar concerns to those presented in this flier. Did those living near the proposed Meijer today really care about them back then? I wouldn't say so - people wanted to shop at Target closer to their homes. In addition to this, what we learned about Target, and what we should learn about Meijer if they get the opportunity to build in Franklin, is that a lot of the concerns simply never materialize.



It was the kind of action and mentality that prevents Franklin from progressing as a community and is highly embarrassing to the entire city and all of its residents.

In November it was very interesting to read the angry comments of Franklin alderman Steve Taylor about the problems associated with dotting all the I’s and crossing all T’s in getting Meijer’s to build here. Taylor expressed his dismay in an interview with The Daily Reporter, a Milwaukee-based construction industry daily newspaper. The print edition of this story appeared in The Daily Reporter on Monday, November 12 with the headline:


"Meijer puts brakes on store”


To this cynic, the immediate reaction was not one of surprise.

The article opened stating that Taylor “blames the city” for “dragging its feet” on approving a Meijer store at Highway 100 and Loomis Road.

Taylor told the paper the city goofed when, during the project’s FIRST city public hearing, witnesses were not sworn in. Now that sounds like a minor, trivial matter. Nevertheless, it necessitated a SECOND public hearing.

Good grief, a technicality throws a monkey wrench into the operation, a technicality that maybe someone with years of municipal experience should have picked up on? So we as a city drop the ball on an innocuous procedure.

If you’re keeping score, give this one to Taylor.

Taylor also told the paper “the city should have given approval a long time ago.”

I certainly would agree. While trying to kiss Franklin’s ring, Meijer has also been negotiating to, if I may use an over-used phrase, move forward to build stores in other WI communities.

Oh, if only the story ended here. But there’s more.

The city’s response to Taylor is that from their perspective, the city has okayed just about every approval it needed in order to, my goodness I’m going to write it again, move the project forward.

Who asked for a delay in the entire approval process? Not the city of Franklin, but ironically, Meijer.

Meijer hasn’t specified why. A Franklin official told The Daily Reporter he believes the self-imposed delay is due to Meijer's requirements with the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the US Army Corps of Engineers. In essence there are still city, state, and federal hurdles.

Once again, hyper-enviro concerns are standing in the way of much-needed progress and business/job creation in Franklin. The Meijer project, you see, could threaten some wetlands.


OH NO! NOT THAT! PLEASE NOT THAT!


So Meijer has three keisters to smooch…the DNR, the feds, and the city. At the city level, Meijer has to, according to The Daily Reporter, meet Franklin’s environmental standards (you know, the kind that keeps our city in reverse) at the SECOND public hearing that is necessary because city officials didn’t swear in witnesses at the FIRST public hearing.


CARAMBA!


Dealing with the DNR isn’t a walk in the park, but it’s less difficult than in the past under Jim Doyle’s tenure. State Senator Frank Lasee wrote in a November e-newsletter:

"Because of the leadership of DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been improving greatly. Reforming the 2300 employee DNR is a huge undertaking, and will take more time. I've been hearing from people that the DNR is now working for the environment and for you, not against you (there is still room for improvement).

"The new Office of Business Support and Sustainability (OBSS) has been created to help businesses navigate the DNR's bureaucracy by helping them comply with DNR rules and the permitting process.

"The OBSS is a special help line for getting permits to increase job growth in Wisconsin by cutting red tape while protecting the environment. We can probably poach some businesses from our neighbors to the south. Since Illinois has declared 'open season' on job creators with more taxes, out of control spending, and tons of red tape, it’s not 'poaching'.”

With sharks in the water, the Milwaukee Business Journal under the very capable reporting hands of Sean Ryan weighed in. Again, the headline was gloomy:


Meijer store in Franklin hits hurdles


The paper reported in its lead paragraph that city officials are worried that Meijer’s may “abandon its plans” for a megastore in Franklin.

Enter another city voice: Alderman Steve Olson whose district includes the Meijer site.

While Taylor blames a slow city view, Olson says road accommodations at the site are a problem. The state even pushed a roundabout at the site, adding to the mess.

But the Business Journal noted Meijer is working through similar issues in Grafton where they want to build, and guess what? No problemo there.

And some in Franklin don't want Meijer's to be open 24/7.

So here we go.

This is a full-blown fiasco with finger-pointing and no one, I mean no one at the city of Franklin level accepting blame or responsibility. It's everyone else's fault.

BOTTOM LINE

The conventional wisdom seems that the threat to wetlands (Are you kidding me?) is a major hang-up.

Meijer’s lawyers outsmarted our lawyers and insisted on a second public hearing addressing primarily those wetland issues where witnesses are sworn in. Now, Meijer's wants no part of a second public hearing on wetlands issues. They won’t say why. That doesn't look good. Oh, no. Bye bye economic development, bye bye jobs? Thanks, Franklin.

Alderman Taylor was right, but only to a certain degree. While the city is open to criticism, there are other roadblocks, along with Meijer walking away from the table. I think Taylor picked the wrong case to blame the city for a failure to seal the deal.

What is Meijer doing rather than working to get this done expeditiously? Taylor has doubts Meijer will return to talk turkey with Franklin. I submit he may be right on that count. My guess is that Meijer is back home discussing what’s in their best interests. Jumping through all these hoops ain’t it. Meijer could decide to simply take their ball out of Franklin and play somewhere else, more easily and quickly. That's a real possibility.

If that happens, you can forget all the finger pointing. Enough blame to go around, and everyone loses. And again, given the way we do things in Franklin, no surprise.


Franklin has a bizarre, unexplainable approach to economic development. Most communities welcome the concept. Franklin desperately tries to find roadblocks, reasons to block progress.

When Andy’s was set to move in at 51st and Rawson, I contacted Mayor Tom Taylor and then-Alderman Alan Hammelman. “Is this the best we can do?” at such a prime location, I asked.

Both gentlemen told me that was indeed the case.

With hindsight being 20-20, Andy’s is ok. The point is Franklin’s acceptance of a glorified gas station was the consensus.

How long did we fight and squabble and nitpick over Target?

Now Meijer’s.

Are we asking a hippo to jump through a hoop?

The pattern I’ve seen in Franklin since I moved here in 1992 is that the powers that be, when it comes to true economic development and job creation and bold moves, lack the stomach to pull the trigger, leading one to question their real commitment to critical economic growth.

We may still get a Meijer’s. But trust me, other businesses are watching that may not want to play the long guessing game that hinders Franklin’s growth. We hurt ourselves whenever a high profile business decision has to be made. Sadly, the people in charge don’t see it, understand it, or seem to care.


In an Oct. 18 letter to city of Franklin officials, Milwaukee attorney Brian Randall who is representing Meijer requested a delay on an Oct. 25 hearing about the wetlands issue, and indicated he will provide more updates before the end of the year. That’s just a few days away and we’ve not heard back from Meijer. The clock is ticking.

Meanwhile the Milwaukee Business Journal reported last Friday, “Meijer Inc.’s proposed store in the city of Franklin is still stalled, but the retailer is clearing challenges in three other area communities despite continued pockets of opposition from residents. Meijer is racking up approvals it needs for mega-stores in Grafton, Wauwatosa and the town of Lisbon near Sussex.”

P.S. On his blog, Franklin’s Bryan Maersch took issue with Alderman Taylor blasting away to the Daily Reporter, a trade publication widely read by builders and developers. Maersch contends Taylor might have seriously hurt our chances for a Meijer store and/or future developments just so he could spout off in the press. That’s entirely plausible.


THE TOP 10 FRANKLIN STORIES OF 2012

1) ?
2) ?
3) ?
4) MEIJER REALLY WANTS TO COME HERE, BUT...
5) WELCOME TO THE MMSD
6) PUTTING FRANKLIN ON THE MAP
7) A GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY
8) THE RISE OF THE CYBER BULLIES
9) FRANKLIN DEPARTURES
10) A BROCHURE? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

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