By Doug Hissom Special to Published Mar 05, 2008 at 5:28 AM
Members of the Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission will update the city's Public Safety Committee on its progress this week. The commission was put in place in 2005 to research nearly everything related to homicides in the city, ranging from the background of victims and perpetrators to the elements surrounding the homicide.

In the past the commission found -- not unexpectedly -- that 90 percent of homicide suspects and 77 percent of victims had prior arrests. It also found that more than half of the suspects and victims knew each other and 40 percent of the homicides were the results of arguments.

The commission was initially funded with about $600,000 in foundation grants for the three-year effort. But when it was time recently for the city to produce $200,000 for the consultants to the commission -- namely Mallory O'Brien, a Milwaukee-based Harvard School of Public Health researcher, and research assistant Laurie Woods -- Ald. Robert Puente questioned what, exactly, the commission was doing.

He wondered why consultants would be worth $200,000. Recently, Puente also tried to corner new Police Chief Ed Flynn as to what the commission was doing in exchange for the city's money, but Flynn, new to the job, evaded a solid answer. Expect Puente to ask that question to O'Brien herself when she appears this week in person.

Selective Subsidies: The City of Milwaukee development office has been nearly consistent in taking a stand against giving potential Park East developers public hand-outs for their projects -- with a few exceptions.

Local favorite Barry Mandel has gotten millions in subsidies for his ambitious effort to turn the Pfister and Vogel Tannery into condos and retail shops. But a Chicago-based developer was rejected in his quest for city help.

Because of the few efforts at largess, there have been few efforts to get things going in the Park East corridor, former site of the Park East Freeway, which practically dumped commuters into the East Pointe Pick ‘N Save parking lot.

Now comes local Rob Ruvin, who announced plans to break ground soon on a combo hotel / retail / condo project at the corner of 3rd and Juneau, across the street from the Sydney HiH building, which he also owns and on which he promises to build a hotel.

A plan in front of the city's Zoning and Development Committee has the city pitching in about $1.7 million to build a riverwalk, dockwall and public plaza for Ruvin's project as part of a tax incremental district, which means the project doesn't start paying taxes of any kind -- including local, school and county property taxes -- until the level of the loan is reached,. In this case, according to economic advisers, that's about 2015.

In return, Ruvin -- who has remodeled the former Blatz Brewery condos to the satisfaction of many tenants -- will build a 78,400-sq. ft. Aloft Hotel, nine condo units that comprise 20,600 sq. ft. and 3,300 sq. ft. of retail space.

Selective Memory: It's called risk when money is invested in the private sector, but when dealing with public entities it seems that private operators can keep coming back to the renegotiation trough.

The new operators of the Milwaukee Mile found out after a year it wasn't exactly the gold mine they anticipated and in an effort to renege on their deal, came up with the fantasy that the new grandstands were unsafe. Really, though, the new grandstands were constructed such that the retail opportunities Milwaukee Mile chairman Craig Stoehr envisioned were not allowed.

Stoehr and company went to the State Fair Park board to get out of its original deal, which also included buying some six acres of land next to the park to build a hotel and retail development. The group says it lost more than $3 million last year. Faced with the untimely prospect of having to look for another operator for the track or go to court for a possible contract violation suit, the board agreed to lower Stoehr's fees and allow the group to lease, rather than buy, the six acres for the hotel project.

The High Price of Fireworks: Just in time for Cinco de Mayo and July 4, the Milwaukee Common Council will likely double the fines for blowing off fireworks if a committee recommends it.

After months of meetings in a special Fireworks Task Force, Alds. Joe Davis and Terry Witkowski recommend raising the fines from $100-$500 to $500-$1,000. The recommendation would also fine parents and legal guardians $1,000 if they were found consenting to fireworks activity of their minor wards. If the fine is shirked, it would be 40 days in the House of Correction.

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.