October 6, 2007

Party on the Pavement 2007!!!

Marie and I walked around Party on the Pavement Saturday - what a great event! Thousands of people were out on a beautiful day walking around Sixth and Main streets. Everyone we talked to was really happy with the day (except for a few weary biz owners from all of the customers!)

We have tons of photos from the event. Click here to see them. If you have photos you'd like to share, e-mail them to me at: dustin.block@gmail.com and I'll add them to the photo page.

Thanks to the organizers for a great day ... looking forward to next year already (with a possible addition, if the head of the Civic Centre has his way ... more on that Monday).

Here's the JT's story on the Party.

October 5, 2007

Update: 17-year-old girl hit by car outside of Case High School

UPDATE: A Milwaukee radio station is now reporting that the driver of the car was a 17-year-old girl who was fleeing an altercation in a nearby parking lot. The victim, also 17, was fleeing the same incident when she was hit. Police are recommending charges of Hit and Run - Causing Great Bodily Harm, and First Degree Recklessly Endangering Safety, according to the station.

17-year-old injured in hit-and-run accident outside of Case High

A young girl is seriously injured tonight after being hit by a car as she left Case High School. The car was leaving the Marriot Hotel when it hit the girl. The driver didn't stop, but later returned to the police station. (The JT has a story here.)

The accident happened at about 2:40 p.m. Sarah Liberty, 17, had "very serious injuries," according to a statement from Mount Pleasant police. She was unconcious when paramedics first arrived, and was semi-conscious as she was taken away by Flight for Life to Milwaukee.

Witnesses told police that the car came out of the Marriot's parking lot onto Oakes Road, hit the girl and fled north before turning east onto Highway 20. Police interviewed two teenagers for the accident and took their car into evidence.

Anyone who saw the accident is asked to call (262) 884-0454.

Silence on Pointe Blue

Four days of asking around, and not a single word to report on the alleged $200 million Pointe Blue development in Downtown Racine. I say "alleged" because it sure seems like this thing is going to fall through. If it was closer to done, wouldn't someone be willing to say something along the lines of, "We're close, it's just paperwork, details, etc., etc. ..."

No one is saying anything. I've called and emailed the developer, Scott Fergus. I've called and emailed Mayor Becker. I've called the director of city development. I've checked in with city aldermen. The closest thing to any sort of comment I've received was from someone close to the negotiations who said on the phone, "If no one is saying anything, maybe they don't want to say anything." Click.

So the project that was a done deal in April is, obviously, far from a done deal. The question now seems to be: Is Pointe Blue dead?

You'll know when I know.

October 4, 2007

Commuter rail funding in state budget limbo

As the state budget negotiations drag on, I've spent the past two days trying to gauge where the funding proposal for KRM, the commuter rail expansion to Racine and Milwaukee counties, stands.

To recap, the Senate passed included in its version of the new state budget a hike in southeastern Wisconsin's rental car fee to pay for annual operation of the system, which could start as soon as 2011. The Assembly didn't include the fee increase in its budget. The result: a conference committee will decide the proposal's fate.

It's unclear how big of an issue the KRM funding is for either side. It's certainly not on the level of the cigarette tax, education funding or the tax on big oil. But it's not a small item, either. Local legislators on both sides of the issue confirmed that commuter rail is getting attention - it's just hard to say what, exactly, is being said.

Here's what we heard from local legislators on the issue:

State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine

Mason said he gets the senseKRM funding is a tier 2 issue that will come up once the big issues are resolved. He couldn't say what direction the committee was

He did say he's pushing State Rep. Jim Kreuser, head of the Assembly Democrats, to fight for commuter rail. Kreuser, who represents Kenosha, is sympathetic to the issue.

Mason added that a recent letter from Racine CEOs backing KRM was a boost for the proposal. The business leaders continue to press the issue, and that's helping commuter rail's chances in the budget process.

State Rep. Robin Vos, D-Caledonia

Vos clearly says he's not opposed to KRM. He is, however, opposed to using the rental car fee increase to fund the annual operation. He's pushing for alternatives, and his opposition to the current plan could influence the conference committee. After all, his district would get a commuter rail station - if he's opposed,
why should legislators from around the state support the plan?

Vos said Wednesday he favors a two-tiered referendum on funding for commuter rail. First, local governments vote on whether they want to hold a referendum on joining a regional transit authority that would fundKRM with a sales tax. Then, residents in each community would vote on commuter rail. Vos said a similar system worked in Michigan, and he feels it's the fairest way to implement commuter rail.

He also suspects the proposal would go down, at least in his district. Vos said he's heard overwhelmingly negative comments from constituents, which makes it easy for him to stand against Racine business leaders.

He added that he believes mostKRM supporters are so desperate to get commuter rail they're backing a flawed funding plan that will lead to deficits in the future.

State Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine

A strong supporter of commuter rail, Lehman pushed theKRM funding through the Senate's budget. Now, he's working with the conference committee to get it included in the final draft.

In an e-mail Wednesday, Lehman said KRM is still on the table and the rental car fee remains the most viable funding option for commuter rail. He also noted that in the last week that leaders from Milwaukee, Racine andKenosha counties failed to reach consensus on a broader proposal to fund regional transit. That could clear the way for KRM funding - a possibility Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker discussed on

UPDATE: Who isn't paying their Festival Park bills?

UPDATE: We heard back from Jim Walczak, who tells us all of the past-due bills are paid. He wasn't sure why there was such a large outstanding balance, but thought some of the bills could have gotten out late.

Walczak also said a number of interesting things about Festival Park and Memorial Hall, which we'll write about over the weekend.


Someone isn't paying their bills. But who?

At the Sept. 26 Civic Centre Commission meeting, Executive Director Jim Walczak said three "major festivals" owed $90,613.88 for renting out the Civic Centre this year. I'm waiting to hear back from the Civic Centre on which festivals owe money.

One group that definitely owes the Civic Centre money are the organizers of the Free Style Fighting competition at Memorial Hall. Walczak told the commission he filed a petition with the small claims court against the fighting competition for an outstanding balance that's more than a year old. A court hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 11 on the matter.

On a positive note, attendance was up 4,000 people at Civic Centre events this year compared to last, and that attendance through August was already higher than all of 2006.

Lehman: Public safety jeopardized if no state budget

State Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, sent out a press release today listing local projects on hold, or in danger, if a new state budget isn't passed. Wisconsin is the last state in the nation to not have a budget for next year. Here's Lehman's list:

Lack of overtime pay for Department of Corrections workers, including the 1,040 full time employees work at the two medium-security prisons, two minimum-security correctional facilities and the juvenile institution in Racine County.

Grants for a "clean sweep" waste collection project in the Town of Rochester.
A project to reduce infant mortality countywide.

Funding for the Cops 'n Kids reading program in Racine.

No increase in road aids for towns and increase in youth and court aids for the county could increase local property taxes.

Funding for commuter rail to Racine is on hold.

Two new buildings on the UW-Parkside campus are on hold.

No expansion of drug treatment programs for inmates, making it more likely some will commit more crimes.

No funding for GPS tracking of child sex offenders.

October 3, 2007

Commuter rail gets a boost from failure

I spent much of Wednesday trying to track down the status of funding for the proposed commuter rail expansion from Kenosha to Milwaukee. I'll be writing about this more tomorrow, but tonight here's some interesting information from Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker.

I'd heard earlier in the day that Walker talked about KRM funding during a "Mayor's Roundtable" hosted by Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (read here for an interesting take on the event). Walker reportedly said that KRM funding had a better chance of passing now that leaders from Racine, Milwaukee and Waukesha counties gave up on a sales tax increase to create a regional transportation system. Negotiations to create the system broke down last week, and that could be to KRM's benefit, according to Walker. Or so I was told.

Later in the day, Walker himself confirmed his comments in an e-mail. Here's what he wrote:
Per your question, I said this morning that one of the unusual side effects of there not being an agreement on a funding source for mass transit in the region at this time is that it might make passage of the funding for KRM more likely. Some on the current RTA were concerned that lawmakers would not approve the KRM plan while local leaders were discussing the larger issue of transit in the region. Since the debate over sales tax has brought that to a halt, it removes a potential barrier to the KRM plan.
KRM still faces some big hurdles in getting approved by the conference committee negotiating the state budget. One big hurdle is State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, who isn't opposed to KRM, but isn't sold on the proposed funding mechanism. More on that tomorrow, along with takes from State Sen. John Lehman, D-Racine, and State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, who are both strong proponents of the commuter rail expansion.

Property Transfers: Burlington home sells for $1.165 million

A Burlington home at 30609 Cedar Drive sold for $1.165 million on Sept. 14, according to Racine County Register of Deeds office. (Click here to download a spreadsheet of the property transfers.)

The home, listed by Sharon Smolensky of Keefe Real Estate in Burlington, is located on the north end of Browns Lake and sits on 0.56 acres and had an assessed value of $946,900. It's fair market value was estimated at $1.018 million in 2006.

Timothy Markowski sold the home. The sale was reported ot the Register of Deeds office on Oct. 1.

The hefty price tag is similar to neighboring houses on Cedar Drive. A house at 30537 Cedar Drive is on the market for $1.25 million.

The Cedar Drive sale was the highest in Racine County for the week of Sept. 26 to Oct. 3. In all, 56 properties were reported sold during the week at an average price countywide of $164,706.85. Here's a breakdown of average prices by community with multiple home sales:

Racine - $116,657.41
Caledonia - $200,966.67
Mount Pleasant - $148,757.78
Sturtevant - $175,575.00
Union Grove - $117,000.00
Waterford - $250,250.00

October 2, 2007

Crime stories

Guess how many stories in Tuesday's Journal Times were about local crime ... 3? 5?10? Nope. A dozen stories dealt with murders, attempted murder, a stabbing and thefts. For your baker's dozen special, a photo and story about an AK-47 raffle.

Where are you, Pointe Blue?

What's the latest on the $200 million Pointe Blue development in Downtown Racine? I wish I knew. While waiting on call backs from the city and the developer, let's recap where things stand.

On March 28, The Journal Times reported:

Financing for Pointe Blue, which will be this city's largest development project ever, is now in place. Tuesday's announcement by the developer means the project will soon begin construction...

Over the weekend, the financing package for both site acquisition and construction fell into place, the developer, Scott Fergus of KeyBridge Development Group, said Tuesday.

"They have agreed to finance the project," Fergus said of the national capital group which wants to remain unnamed until the closing. Fergus said that should happen on or before April 11.

The financing announcement erases the perception of uncertainty that some observers had when the complex deal took longer than expected to be knitted together.

Fergus, president of Milwaukee-based KeyBridge, said he heard the doubts, but never shared them.

"In reality, no, I never doubted it was going to happen," said the former Racinian and state legislator.

Mayor Gary Becker said he heard the doubts also, but remained confident during the process.

"The thing about it was: Although there were potholes, it always kept moving forward," Becker said.

Fergus said he expects construction to start about April 16. Despite delays, he said the project is still on schedule...
Here's what the site of the largest development in Racine history currently looks like ...

It doesn't look like they've hit those April deadlines. In fact, they haven't moved dirt on this project, and nobody seems to be saying why. Hopefully we'll find out this week. -d

October 1, 2007

Day One

Racine Post was started in October 2007 by Dustin Block and Pete Selkowe. It's an independent news source dedicated to covering and sharing all news related to Racine, Wis. We don't compete with other media in a traditional way. We link to as many stories as possible that relate to Racine, no matter where they appear. If the Journal-Sentinel or Journal Times have a good story, we'll make it the lead on our site just as readily as we'll put our own news on the site. We hope to become the definitive source for news in Racine by compiling all headlines into a single place - and adding a few of our own along the way!

Pete Selkowe (email) is a retired publisher of The Journal Times with 30 years of experience in the newspaper industry as a reporter, photographer, editor and publisher. He also sits on the board of the Racine Theatre Guild and is a member of the local Vespa club and the Downtown Rotary Club.

Dustin Block (email) is a freelance writer and editor who fell in love with newspapers the second he walked into the offices of The Badger Herald at UW-Madison in 1995. He's worked for several papers, including eight years at The Journal Times as a reporter and city editor. He left the JT in October 2007 to start Racine Post. He also writes for the Insider News, The Daily Reporter, Milwaukee Magazine and Wisconsin Builder Magazine.

Here's our first post:

We're off and running ... the initial comments are good. I've done no marketing, so I'm relying on friends and acquaintances for the initial traffic. I hope they like what they see and tells others.

A few notes ... I've set up an AIM account for people to instant message comments, tips, etc. My sign in name is simply, "Racine Post."

I also setup a MySpace page at: www.myspace.com/racinepost. I've done nothing with the page so far, but it's out there.

News wise, there are some good headlines out there. I liked the column out of England offering an alternative take on SC Johnson's Administration Building. Plus, Minnesota went smoke free today and Racine's "Message in a Bottle" couple is the lead story on Yahoo.

I'm working on a few original stories for later today or tomorrow, plus trying to figure out how to tell everyone Racine Post exists. If you're reading this, spread the word!