City to seek USDA grant for 133 E. Mill St.

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – A Cheese Capital of the World store/museum in the vacant 133 E. Mill St. building could move $400,000 closer to reality.

The City Council Tuesday approved an application for a $300,000 USDA Rural Development Economic Development loan and grant to help in the rehabilitation of the city-owned building.

City Administrator Brian Yerges explained that the city could add $100,000 in tax incremental finance district funds as its required match for the USDA grant to provide another $400,000 toward the estimated $1 million to $1.2 million cost of renovating the building.

“We are trying to find creative ways to finance this project,” Yerges said of the building renovation. Plans call for two apartments on the upper floor of the building and a combination cheese store/museum/ information center on the first floor.

The Redevelopment Authority, which took ownership of the building in tax foreclosure, received a $500,000 grant from the Lakeshore Community Foundation in Manitowoc last month.

Speaking of the USDA grant program, Yerges pointed out to the council, “We actually applied for this program one other time, for GTS for their Willow Road facility, and they are repaying that.”

Under the USDA grant program, repayment goes to the city, which can then use the money to create a revolving loan fund for economic development outside state or federal control.

“At the end of the day, we have another revolving loan fund the city could use,” for economic development, Yerges said.

Yerges noted that, in order to obtain the grant, the proceeds must go to a non-profit entity and cannot go to the city.

Since the RDA owns the building, it could be reestablished as an independent organization, similar to the Plymouth Housing Authority, but Yerges said that would involve a lengthy process and might not be feasible.

Instead, the city will be looking to partner with the non-profit Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp. - for which the city provides financial support – transferring the building to the SCEDC and having them carry out the rehab and redevelopment work.

“In this scenario the SCEDC would own the building and the RDA would have the ability to buy it back for $1 at a given point in time,” Yerges explained.

It would be part of the effort to find funding from sources other than the city budget to put the historic building back in service, he said.

Alderman Jim Faller questioned the continued effort to restore the building.

“Take a look at a private investor. They would never put $1.2 million into two apartments and a storefront downtown,” Faller commented.

“Our objective is, rather than tear every building down in the downtown when there is a problem that pops up,” to save the building instead, Yerges replied.

“We’re trying to save a building that was built around 1895 and that would leave a large hole in the downtown if it was torn down,” he continued.

“What’s the alternative if you have an empty lot,” Mayor Donald Pohlman added.

Yerges said the grant funds could be repaid out of TIF 5 proceeds, enabling the RDA to establish the revolving loan fund sooner.

“This is what RDAs do,” Pohlman said of the revitalization and revolving loan fund efforts. “But RDAs can’t do it if there’s no money in the checkbook. This is a way to help establish our RDA.”

“We are going to work on getting additional funds,” Yerges said of the rehabilitation effort. One possibility, he added, is historic tax credits which could cover roughly 20 percent of the total costs of the project.

The resolution to seek the grant was passed unanimously, but not without a statement from Faller.

“It’s kind of useless to vote no since everybody is going along, but this is why we’re $18 trillion in the hole,” as a nation, Faller commented.

The council approved the appointment of David Williams and Greg Hildebrand to the RDA. Williams will fill a citizen member position until Aug. 1, 2020, while Hildebrand will be the council representative to the RDA through next April.

Aaron Worthman of Baker Tilly presented the 2014 Plymouth Utilities audit to the council.

“The overall financial health of Plymouth Utilities is good,” Worthman told the council. “You’re doing what you need to do. (The utilities) are very healthy and have very strong debt management.”

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