Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Oshkosh Common Council needs to get a few answers

Graduates of Oshkosh’s first Citizens Academy have shared some interesting tidbits of information that I think some city councilors, if not all, would be surprised to hear.

First, citizens academy participants were apparently aware of certain things related to the budget about five to six weeks prior to when the city council was given the answers. As part of that, they were aware that a garbage fee might be coming down the pike before the city council was told about it. This begs the obvious question: Why can’t budget information be gotten out to the city council earlier than it is? Waiting until practically the last minute is not right and it ties the council’s hands to a certain degree.

The second thing the public and some council members, if not all, need to know is that our director of community development Jackson Kinney is responsible for turning away some business in downtown Oshkosh. On the one hand we hear him preaching about how we need development down there. On the other hand he seems to have summarily rejected at least one business from going there.

Two graduates from the citizens academy have told me that Mr. Kinney told the “class” that the city was approached by someone who wanted to put a grocery store downtown, but that the idea was rejected because it was an off-brand store and the city would like a more upscale or name-brand store downtown. First of all, we need a grocery store downtown for the people who live and work there. It is something people have talked about ever since Walgreens left, maybe even before. The city apparently feels we need a grocery store there too, unfortunately they’re holding out for something more golden. If something more upscale is the obvious ticket, why isn’t it happening? More importantly, why does it need to be more upscale? Aldi’s is an off-brand store, for example, but it has been successful. If it’s because the city is trying to attract a yuppie-type atmosphere downtown, forget it. Since being built and being unable to fill to capacity as an upscale property, the 100 N. Main apartments have given away at least a month of free rent and I believe even lowered the monthly rate in order to attract residents. So the “upscale” factor has lost some of its allure. A grocery store is a grocery store and while some may offer things others don’t, the bottom line is what needs to be looked at. We need a grocery store downtown and should not be picky whether it’s upscale or off-brand. And what we really don’t need is Jackson Kinney making decisions and nixing plans that some, maybe all, of the city council wasn’t aware of. And if a different council than the one that just ended was aware of this rejected concept, those members owe us an explanation of why they either rejected such an idea or were in favor of it being turned away by Mr. Kinney or his department.

It seems to me city council members need to question Jackson Kinney about this and I think it should be done during a regular televised city council meeting. After all, that is when the council does its business and that is where the taxpayers get to see business being done. We deserve to hear Mr. Kinney’s explanation as to why we don’t get to say what we want our money spent on but he gets to say what will and will not go in the downtown we’re helping pay for. I know some city council members prefer asking questions in private. That may be their preferred style of doing things, but that is NOT what is needed here. We have enough things being done in private. Ask the questions publicly so the public can see the way things really are. We deserve that much – from the city administration and you, as our elected representatives.

- Cheryl Hentz

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Oshkosh Common Council needs to get a few answers
Authored by: admin on Saturday, May 06 2006 @ 04:50 PM MDT
Councilwoman Meredith Scheuermann recently sent an email to Jackson Kinney inquiring about the grocery store that was discouraged from going in downtown, according to some graduates of the recent Citizens Academy. We thank Mrs. Scheuermann for forwarding his answers to us. Following is his response, verbatim:

"I can't recall the discussion. I very possibly said that we were were interested in seeing a grocery store locate in the downtown area, and I may have indicated that we had been approached previously by Sav-A-Lot (at least several years ago), who was interested in finding the right site somewhere in the downtown/central city area. The right site to them meant a site of about 2 acres somewhere north of the river in the central city area.

"Trying to find an appropriate location of the right size was not an easy task, especially given the size requirement and given the fact that in most locations we were looking at, it would take some significant investments in redevelopment and relocation, and given the relatively low value of their anticipated investment/improvement, the project would not be able to cover the costs from a TIF standpoint. I would have certainly not gone into this type of detail with the Citizens Academy, where any remarks I made was part of the bus tour.

"I certainly would have indicated, however, and very possibly did, that we would not recommend that Sav-A-Lot be located in the Marion Road Redevelopment Area, and that we would rather see in that particular area (essentially along Jackson St.) a more "upscale" grocery than a Sav-A-Lot (if you've seen a Sav-A-Lot, you'll understand why), especially given the investment that we've made in preparing that area for development, and what we should want to see in terms of the quality and level of investment)."

In a subsequent email Mr. Kinney added this:

"Someone forwarded me the blog story on Cheryl Hentz's web site. If I didn't make myself clear, let me expound a bit more. We spent time and effort working to find a site that made sense for the Save-A-Lot. In learning more about Save-A-Lot, I visited stores in several communities. That gave us a good understanding of the operation and the typical building improvement that is reflected in such a development. Even though we received no specific proposal from Save-A-Lot (so we never rejected any request), we've continued to keep an eye out for the right opportunity where we could make a store work somewhere in the downtown/central city area. We've even explored one site on N. Main Street, but the issue there is it is smaller than the site parameters we were initially given by their representative. What's important to note, that even though we never received a proposal from Save-A-Lot, we've kept the company's prior general interest in mind, with the hope that we could find the right fit for this business."

For anyone interested in seeing what Save-A-Lot is all about, they can visit the chain’s web site here. I guess I just don’t understand why we have to be so snobby as to require something “upscale.” Do people really care that much where they buy eggs, milk, butter and toilet paper? Perhaps we should think more about the people such a store would serve on a regular basis, rather than some of the more “upscale,” but temporary or transient people we’re apparently trying to create an image for. Again, if places like Pick ‘n Save were so interested in establishing a downtown location, why haven’t they? And why would Save-A-Lot bother to submit a formal proposal if our city planners made it clear early on their store was not up to the standards desired for that specific area?

- Cheryl

Oshkosh Common Council needs to get a few answers
Authored by: tthiel on Sunday, May 07 2006 @ 12:05 AM MDT
I'd have to say Cheryl that I do think some people do care where they buy the essentials and other food etc. I personally go where ever the best price is but I know there are people that would never set food in an Aldi or Save A Lot store and certainly wouldn't buy anything in one. Snobby yes, reality, I would argue yes.

Admittedly I don't know a lot about this issue but from what is posted it didn't sound like the city is saying no Save A Lot downtown, just saying no Save A Lot in the Marion Road Development area (I also got the impression from the term "upscale" he was referring to something like a Sendicks not a Pick 'n Save)

Oshkosh Common Council needs to get a few answers
Authored by: admin on Sunday, May 07 2006 @ 01:27 PM MDT
Teresa, I understand what you're saying about some people being very particular about where they shop. But the people being served by something in the downtown area had only a Walgreens before. I don't think they'd mind a Save-A-Lot. Plus, people would still have the option to go somewhere else if they wanted, just as people not living in the downtown area could go shop at the Save-A-Lot if they so chose.

I find it interesting though, that Jackson Kinney is worried about a business like Save-A-Lot being able to help the city recover the TIF costs. I wonder if the reps from Save-A-Lot even inquired about a TIF or if this was another case where Mr. Kinney just assumed that would be the only way this city could get development done in areas like downtown.

I also wish he was as concerned about the Five Rivers project being viable in that sense as he was about a Save-A-Lot. And I doubt any investment the city would make for a Save-A-Lot would be anywhere near the size of the investment being required of us for Five Rivers. Is he applying the same judicious criteria to Five Rivers as he did to Save-A-Lot, or have his eyes gone blind with the vision of dollar signs and bragging rights by having a complex like Five Rivers here in Oshkosh?

Though Mr. Kinney didn't say it in his email, one of the people from the Academy said he actually mentioned a Pick 'n Save, which is where I drew that from.

Bottom line, they have been messing around with this concept for several years, so why have they not been able to make any progress in getting a grocery store down there? If the "right stores" aren't stepping up to express interest, maybe it's time to look at someone who has, especially since the big discussion right now is retail and commercial development.

- Cheryl

Oshkosh Common Council needs to get a few answers
Authored by: tthiel on Sunday, May 07 2006 @ 01:37 PM MDT
I wasn't really defending Mr. Kinney, frankly I don't know that much about him but if he really thinks Pick n' Save is upscale then I say you might as well go with a Sav a Lot store because while I shop at Pick n' Save I wouldn't call it "upscale". I do think they should be able to find a place for the Save a Lot and maybe they aren't looking too hard because they really don't want it downtown. If that is true it is not only snobbish it is foolish.

Oshkosh Common Council needs to get a few answers
Authored by: admin on Sunday, May 07 2006 @ 02:00 PM MDT
Oh, I didn't think you were defending him at all, but rather perhaps the concept. I don't really know what might be considered an upscale grocery store around here. In other parts of the country where I lived there were truly upscale stores: they were part of no chain at all; they were very specialized in what they offered; and you paid through the nose for items, no matter what they were. Pick 'n Save is a fine store, as are some of the others we have in Oshkosh. But common sense seems to dictate that if Mr. Kinney can't get them interested, he has to accept that and be more flexible in his thinking to get something downtown that is actually interested in being there.

- Cheryl

Oshkosh Common Council needs to get a few answers
Authored by: alibi2day on Monday, May 08 2006 @ 03:19 PM MDT
TOO snobbish and TOO foolish

Good words to best describe the whole Five Rivers
Project and the concept of the Downtown and Marion Road redevelopment projects.
A grocery store?? that would be giving citizens what is needed.
These projects are designed to fill WHATS not NEEDS.
The Council lacks leadership and Common Sense?