By Doug Hissom Special to Published Apr 25, 2007 at 5:12 AM

A Milwaukee developer found that it’s probably best to pay your taxes and fines before asking the city for a little understanding when it comes to putting up a new building.

The City Plan Commission this week denied a request from the Olson Management Group to build a five-story apartment, retail and condo building on the corner of Holton and Brown streets at the site of a current funeral home. Members of the Commission cited the fact that Timothy J. Olson, principal owner of Olson Management, has thousands of dollars in outstanding taxes and city fines as the basis for their decision, even though the City Attorney’s office advised them that Olson’s dubious track record in that area with the city should have no bearing.

City officials testified that Olson has 11 properties with 82 outstanding orders to take care of and has 27 building code convictions–third highest in the city. They also noted that he has paid $14,290 in fines, has $41,310 in outstanding fines as well and owes $111,939 in property taxes. State court records also list a tax lien filed against Olson this month for $50,598.05.

Neighborhood residents showed up to testify against the development, calling Olson a “slumlord” and said he would continue to take advantage of the community if he were allowed to build the building. Olson Management bought the property for $400,000 in 2004.

Olson didn’t show at the hearing. Olson Management V.P. Sonny Bando, who wasn’t at the meeting either, told the media in February that almost all of the eight condos had been sold. The building was to have 45 apartments and street-level commercial space.

In 2005 Olson’s group bought an old warehouse at 1st and Vine Streets and promised to create apartments if it received state tax credits. City records list the building having been bought in 2006 by a group led by Bando and has no recorded living units.

The commission’s action doesn’t prevent Olson from putting up a smaller building on the Holton Street corner.

Troubled Bridge Over Water: Milwaukee downtown Ald. Bob Bauman doesn’t want the city doing business with contractors that leave egg on public officials’ faces. He’s proposing a five-year ban on the city doing any business with Zenith Tech, Inc., which is in charge of the State Street bridge reconstruction.

The State Street bridge project is behind schedule and now $3 million over its original $11.6 million budget. The project is funded largely by the state, but the local impact is causing some west-of-the-river businesses to start claiming economic hardship, especially since it’s already six months behind schedule. The new opening date is set for August. Businesses were exceptionally upset when hearing the recent news that the bridge would not be open for the Riversplash festival in early June.

Waukesha-based Zenith Tech has said its suppliers failed to give certain steel shipments adequate priority. Bauman says that’s just mismanagement.

“If they can’t deliver on their promises and if they’re going to treat such a critical transportation infrastructure project affecting so many businesses, events and residents like some poor stepchild, then I think they’ve earned a five-year ban,” says Bauman.

Bauman has also asked the city to look into monetary penalties against Zenith Tech.

Zenith Tech was recently named “Builder of the Year” by the local Daily Reporter newspaper for its work on the Marquette Interchange.

The State Street span is the second bridge over the Milwaukee River that has the city looking a bit red-faced over unexpected delays. The footbridge over the river from Edison to Old World Third Street held up because the contractor couldn’t get the right parts from China on schedule. Mechanical issues also arose which prevented the bridge from working as planned.

Bauman’s proposal will be heard by the city’s Public Works Committee this week.

Heliport Advances: Milwaukee is another step closer to getting its first private helicopter service that uses area rooftops, albeit a rather exclusive one. The City Plan Commission gave preliminary approval for The Rivianna (pictured above), three 11-story buildings of retail, condos and a hotel on the south side of the Milwaukee River just off Water Street. The $100 million project is planned to be 500,000 square feet in size. The project needed a variance from the city to build its towers up to 178 feet high, from the currently zoned 85 feet. The plan is to include commercial helicopter service to Madison or Chicago or wherever the passengers need, said Rivianna spokesperson and former Ald. Paul Henningsen. Other prominent features of the complex include a waterfall running down the outside of the building, two green roofs, and the Rivianna Yacht Club, including a water taxi dock

While Henningsen said the helicopter service will set hours in the future, the project proposal says the service, Air Rivianna, will be a private heliport with hours from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and include a lounge, reception area and conference facility. Helicopters will fly down the river and then rise up above the heliport before landing to minimize noise in the area, he said.

Henningsen also said the construction will be “all union” and have several so-called “community benefits” features that normally have minority hiring quotas and resident requirements.

Clarification: Contrary to what was reported here April 13, local sales taxes were not increased in 2002 to support expansion of the Midwest Airlines Center, although officials from the Wisconsin Center District, which runs the convention center, were pushing hard in the state Legislature to expand those taxes. The District is funded in part through hotel, food-and-beverage and rental car taxes from Milwaukee County. In 2002, district officials wanted the state to lift the cap on the rental car tax from 4 percent to 6 percent and raise the 0.25 percent food-and-beverage tax in order to expand the Midwest Airlines Center. 

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.