Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Five Rivers likely not dropping anchor after all

After approximately two years of talking with the City of Oshkosh and trying to work out financing specifics satisfactory to construct the $60 million Five Rivers Resort, it appears developer Tom Doig of Five Rivers LLC will be setting sail down the Fox River instead of building his condo-hotel-convention center on it.

Representatives from the city met with C.D. Smith Construction earlier this afternoon and according to an online report from the Oshkosh Northwestern there were “unacceptable gaps in funding” for the resort project. As a result of that, the article says city staff is now recommending the city discontinue consideration of the Five Rivers proposal and begin looking at the possibility of other projects for the Fox River area west of Jackson in the area of Mercury Marine. The city’s Redevelopment Authority meets tomorrow at 4 p.m.; that meeting will continue as planned, with the future of the Marion Road/Pearl Avenue land, some of which was previously considered for Five Rivers, no doubt being discussed.

City manager Richard Wollangk, meanwhile, has drafted a letter to Mayor Bill Castle and the Common Council in which the results of the city’s meeting with C.D. Smith Construction are explained in greater detail.

If a recommendation to end the Five Rivers discussion is forthcoming it would seem to make a resolution drafted yesterday and sponsored by councilors Paul Esslinger and Dennis McHugh rescinding the term sheet and breaking off discussions with Doig a moot point, though as a matter of formality - and finality - it will likely still come to the council at its June 27 meeting.

I am glad the city has recognized the many shortcomings of this project and it seems that the staff’s so-called “due diligence” has finally paid off. While I am appreciative of the fact that this project may soon be coming to a halt as a result of those shortcomings, I also sincerely hope that Common Council members support a recommendation to stop the project now and that staff and council members alike will have learned some lessons from this, including: (1) Do your due diligence in the early stages from now on rather than later, and remember that doing due diligence also means including the public, especially if you’re asking us to contribute money in a partnership; (2) Listen to the public you’re elected to represent. Our ideas should not be summarily dismissed or be given less than their due consideration simply because we’re not elected officials ourselves. After all, I would point out that some of us asked more difficult and more pertinent questions than many of the council members themselves, and certainly much earlier in the process. And remember that to question something does not necessarily make someone a naysayer; (3) Don’t be so eager to give away the keys to our city and bank account to anyone who offers us the sun, moon and stars; (4) Try spurring development like townships and other communities do, without the benefit of a TIF district, because sooner or later you’re going to be TIFed out and then how will you spur new development? (5) Ask tough, but pertinent questions up front as if the money you were spending was your own. Because in reality, part of it is.

- Cheryl Hentz

P.S. With this two-year chapter in our city’s history seemingly coming to a close, ironically enough, at 5:23 p.m. today I received a voice mail message from the Attorney General’s office following up on messages I had left since last week trying to get a status report on the Open Meetings complaint Tony Palmeri and I filed more than three months ago. He and I will try reaching each other tomorrow. But we believe our complaint should still be fully investigated and acted on, irrespective of today’s news and the city’s decision on the Five Rivers project itself. We still maintain the Common Council operated illegally by meeting in closed session on Feb. 14, and a determination in our favor will hopefully help the council refrain from doing so in the future.


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