County Board clears way for Red Cross building sale

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

SHEBOYGAN – The County Board cleared the way Tuesday for the sale of the Red Cross building in the city of Sheboygan to a private developer.

Supervisors waived the county’s right of first refusal on the Erie Avenue property, which dated back to 1960, but not without some questioning from several board members.

Concerns were raised over the accelerated action on the resolution – which was not sent to a second committee for consideration as is usual board practice – and over the conversion of the building to private use.

“I can’t picture how this came out of the blue sky,” Supervisor Edward Procek commented. “I myself think that we should go slow.”

Procek noted that the request had only come to the county three weeks ago.

“We have a developer who wants to start construction before winter,” Supervisor Greg Weggeman explained. “No one knew this waiver existed at the Red Cross. I don’t think anyone at the county remembered this.”

Corporation Counsel Carl Buesing explained that the property had originally been sold by the county to the Kettle-Moraine Boy Scouts Council in 1960 for $1.

The .87-acre parcel was part of a larger county property that was split by the construction of the Kohler Memorial Drive in the late 1950s, according to Buesing.

From what he could determine, Buesing continued, the county had included a first right of purchase in the agreement.

From what he could determine, Buesing continued, the county had included a first right of purchase in the agreement.

The county waived that in 1998 when the Red Cross purchased the building from the Boy Scouts.

Now, the Red Cross is seeking to sell the parcel to a private developer who wants to convert the building into offices. Buesing said the developer projects an investment of more than $500,000 in the project.

“The buyer is going to return this property to the tax rolls,” Supervisor George Marthenze stated.

He added that, if the county decided to exercise its right and buy the property back from the Red Cross, it would have to reimburse the Red Cross for the cost of the improvements on the property, since that is what the Red Cross paid for when it purchased the building and property for $140,000 in 1997.

“If we take the property back, we would have to buy the building and we don’t want $140,000 worth of buildings on Kohler Memorial Drive,” Marthenze concluded.

Supervisor Thomas Epping agreed.

“Sheboygan County is not going to buy this back for $1 because we don’t want to go into the property business and it would cost us more than $1,” he said. “This is a good example for us to learn about what should be done with Sheboygan County property in the future.”

Supervisor Jim Baumgart questioned what the Red Cross would do with the proceeds of the sale and how it would impact Red Cross services in the county in the future.

Marthenze replied that those were not concerns for the board. “The county’s total investment in this property is $1. They built the building on there, we did not finance them,” he said of the Boy Scouts and the Red Cross.

In answer to a question from Supervisor Fay Uraynar, Buesing said the sale does not include the United Way building next door. That building has its own parking and would not lose any parking spaces to the sale, he added.

The vote to waive the repurchase right was 22-3, with Supervisor Brian Hoffmann joining Baumgart and Procek in voting no.

The board heard an update from Information Technology Director Chris Lewinski on the Ring of Fiber project.

The joint project with the city of Sheboygan and the Sheboygan Area School District would create a fiber-optic cable network loop in the city to include county facilities in the city.

The network would make data sharing and communication between county facilities quicker and more secure, Lewinski said. Fiber optic cable could eventually be extended to county facilities in the rest of the county to improve communication and connection to them.

By partnering with the city and the school district, the county’s share of the total project cost is $681,804, according to Lewinski, as opposed to $1.854 million if the county constructed the network alone.

Construction on the network should begin this fall and should be completed by the end of next summer, Lewinski said.

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