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Downtown Waukesha BID Board wants to put the past behind

New president looks forward on making a fresh start

Jan. 15, 2013

Moving forward. That was the term many of the new downtown Waukesha Business Improvement District board members used during their first meeting as the revamped board Jan. 10 at City Hall.

They are doing this with an eight-person board - half of whom were on the previous body - and new officers.

After Jim Taylor's motion to elect City Administrator Ed Henschel as its president failed, the board came to an agreement on property owner Bill Huelsman of Berg Management as the BID's president.

"Ed has done an absolutely wonderful job of keeping the wheels on during this time," said Huelsman, referring to Henschel taking over the BID's day-to-day operations after its former executive director Meghan Sprager resigned and the majority of the board also stepped down last fall. "I had no idea of how we would have any chance of moving forward. Ed, on his own initiative, took up the job and held it together. Because of that effort, we are here today."

Huelsman, the BID's first president from the mid 1980s until the mid 1990s, didn't want to look at what went wrong with the past BID Board.

"I don't want to rehash all of the things. I want to move forward and focus on where we go from here," said Huelsman. The BID Board meets again at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the City Hall Council Chambers. "Remember, these eight people haven't done anything yet."

New board leaders

Nick Martinez, a downtown attorney with Martinez Law & Mediation Center, was elected vice president.

"I think I have a lot to add to the BID and offer a lot of balance and fresh ideas," said Martinez, a new board member.

Ron Lostetter, the chief financial officer at Carroll University, was elected secretary/treasurer. He previously held that same position before he resigned last year.

After last year's controversy that surfaced amid the resignations, Henschel, who volunteered to be a member on the board, had an analogy for it.

"As the outsider's view of it, it's the carpenter nailing a nail into the wall and he's got his thumb over the nail and it hurts," said Henschel, who was hired as city administrator just as all the BID Board developments were taking place. "And I've taken upon myself to get our thumbs off the nail so we can have an effective BID without it hurting so much."

Henschel created an operating plan and bylaws for the organization, which include eliminating the executive director's position, putting more money into events instead of administrative costs and changing the amount of members of the board. The last board had 13 members.

"I feel strongly about a healthy and vibrant downtown," Henschel said. "The controversy that led up to that point preceded me and I don't know the details of those controversies that led up to that.

Not in favor of plan

Two former BID Board members, however, addressed Henschel's proposed plan during the public comment period.

"I think the executive director position is critical to the success of downtown," said Jeff Barta, owner of Nice Ash Cigar Bar in downtown Waukesha. "There's been a lot of criticism that the BID budget is heavily weighted in salary for administrative costs. That's no different from any other governmental agency. Governmental entities aren't meant to produce like commercially-driven businesses. They deliver services.

"I fear that if this proposal is implemented anywhere near as is, it will force the property owners to disband the BID."

Barta suggested the BID Board not take any action on the new bylaws until it seeks views from the property owners who pay the tax through listening sessions or round-table discussions. The BID is a self-taxing area in downtown Waukesha.

"To say I was disappointed when I read this was an understatement," said ChristineVanderBloemen, a property owner who resigned from the board last year. "All it says to me is that the BID was no longer what it was designed to be.

"It says to me all you want is to put on events. That you don't care about development and you don't care about keeping the businesses here. All you want us property owners for is our pocket books, and I feel like you're stealing from us.

"It's not to put on events and I agree with Jeff that we need an executive director to help businesses who want to invest in downtown."

Other BID business

The new board also addressed the Carl Zach Cycling Classic event that takes place in June in downtown Waukesha. The BID has asked the Waukesha Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department for administrative support for the event. Couri Insurance in Waukesha is donating $16,000 for the event.

The BID Board decided that it could not give about $1,600 to the Waukesha Downtown Business Association for ice sculpting at this weekend's JanBoree.

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