May 7, 2009

SC Johnson's Administration Building, Research Tower exempt from property taxes

SC Johnson no longer has to pay property taxes on its Administration Building and Research Tower.

Gov. Jim Doyle signed an executive order declaring the buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright historic landmarks on Jan. 10, 2008. That was the first step in getting them a tax exemption.

Doyle's order also exempts SC Johnson's "Project Honor" now under construction on the corporation's Racine campus. (See our previous story on the executive order here.) The exemption will save SC Johnson at least $25,000 a year on its property tax bill, plus it won't have to pay taxes on its Project Honor buildings when they are completed.

The company paid $151,731 in property taxes in 2008 for its Racine campus.

SC Johnson received the exemption shortly after Doyle issued an executive order on Jan. 10, 2008, declaring SC Johnson's Administration Building and the 14-story Research Tower "historic landmarks." Construction of the Administration Building started in 1936 and the Research Tower in 1944; they were designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976.

Project Honor, designed by Lord Norman Foster, will house the replica Carna├║ba aircraft that Sam Johnson and his sons, Fisk and Curt flew to Brazil in 1998 to retrace the 1935 flight of H.F. Johnson who was searching for a source of wax. The project's two new buildings -- Fortaleza Hall and the Community Building -- will serve as a tourist and educational center. They total 65,000 square-feet in new construction.

Under a 1997 state law, the executive order makes the historic buildings and Project Honor eligible for a property tax exemption.

The main entrance of the Administration Building

City Assessment

SC Johnson used Doyle's executive order to apply for a property tax exemption from the city, according to Ray Anderson, the interim city assessor. "The tax exemption request came through pretty fast," he said -- just three days after Doyle's executive order.

The city collects taxes from the properties, but doesn't assess the value of the Administration Building or Research Tower, Anderson said. Both are considered manufacturing property (although nothing is manufactured there), and such buildings are assessed by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, "because manufacturing property is unique and they can do it on a uniform basis," Anderson said.

City tax records show the parcel of land that includes the Research Tower and the Administration Building was assessed at $1.615 million in 2008. The land, which is not exempt, was valued at $399,800. Improvements on the land were valued at $1,215,600. The parcel's total tax bill was $35,196.82 plus a $6,354.73 special charge.

To create the exemption, SC Johnson split one of its parcels into two pieces, with one piece including the Administration Building, Research Tower and Project Honor.

Other buildings on the Howe Street property, including the former St. Mary's Hospital, are not exempt from property taxes.

Project Honor, under construction today

State Assessment

SC Johnson may still have to pay some taxes on its Research Tower, Administration Building and Project Honor, Anderson said. The land the buildings sit on is still taxable, he said.

But how much the land is worth is still to be determined by the Department of Revenue, which has yet to report that amount to the city, Anderson said. The Department of Revenue didn't immediately return our calls for this story.

SC Johnson just missed out on its property tax exemption in 2008. Doyle issued his order Jan. 10, 2008, and the the company applied for the exemption on Jan. 13, 2008 -- barely two weeks after the Jan. 1 date the state uses for "setting" the value of property for tax purposes.

Research Tower is vacant, because it's not up to building codes.


  1. A. Historic landmarks? Maybe, maybe.
    B. Tax exempt? Why? What makes a 'historic landmark' tax exempt? What is the rational?

    Does a 'historic landmark' then have to be open to the public so we can appreciate its history? All I see is a tax dodge.

  2. Here's the definition of Historic Landmarks under state law:

    (1) DEFINITION. In this section, “cultural and architectural landmark” means real property and improvements designated in an executive order as a valued historical landmark and an architectural masterpiece, or an educational tourist center located adjacent to the real property and improvements designated in an executive order as a valued historical landmark and an architectural masterpiece.

  3. I consider my home to be a “cultural and architectural landmark” - can I skip out on property taxes too?

    Thanks Johnson family for screwing the City of Racine and State of Wisconsin yet again!

  4. StopthemadnessNOW5/07/2009 10:16 PM

    Oh, puleez! This walks like a dodge and quacks like a dodge. Thank you for bringing this to the public's attention.

    It begs a question: How many other similar "tax exempt" properties are in our fair state??

    And, it leads to a much larger, thornier public policy issue: Have we finally reached a point in our state/local history where we must reform our tax system??

  5. My house was built in the mid 1920's and is a great example of "middle class architecture" of that period. Just two questions: Is the form I need to fill out available somewhere on-line? Are any campaign contributions required?

  6. SC Johnson is for the KRM.

    Lehman's JT opinion mentions "small assessment on the payrolls of the large area businesses" as a funding source.


  7. I forgot to add......

    I wonder where SC Johnson would get that money from?

  8. Ever hear of the term "money talks"? Well if this isn't a huge example of that, nothing is.

    Thank you Racine Post for sharing this with us. We never got this type of reporting from the Journal Times.

    The Family Company, namely the Johnson Family, should be ashamed. It really does come down to money and had absolutely nothing to do with anything historic. It only took 3 days to get that application for property tax evasion in? That proves it. Timing is everything.

    Who do you suppose will make up the difference in property tax? No, really? You don't suppose we will? Really? Naw, can't be. The Johnson Family wouldn't do that to Racine, would they?

    The Johnson's have some explaining to do to Racine property tax payers. Wonder if Racine Post could get an audience with the Johnson's. Or Doyle?

    This is just plain wrong.

  9. Doyle is gearing up for a tough gubernatorial run. He's already lining up "favors".

  10. I've ALWAYS said J Wax is crooked, only to get jumped on by many SCJ punks. HAAAAAAAAAAA

    Now what punks??????

  11. Any info on the Sgt. who pulled a gun on a B-Ball coach yet??

  12. J Wax a great corporate citizen!
    Doyle a great Governor!!

  13. why is this tax exempt, but Riverbend is not?

  14. 7:45 I can think of a Billion reasons

  15. Those darn teachers!
    What will it be next?

  16. Anonymous 6:10am: What is crooked about this? Please be specific with your answer and if possible cite sources (online preferably) so that I can see what your basing your opinion on. It will be helpful as I (and others) try to conclude that you are right or wrong.

  17. Anonymous 8:31am

    Nice try. Of course you won't find anything online you can site. This is all about ethics. You know, what your mom and dad taught you. That special feeling of knowing what is right or wrong in your gut.

    Of course you could argue that these buildings are of historic nature. But the timing associated with them being so proclaimed followed by the application for property tax evasion within 3 days shows clear intent. And that, my friend, is what makes this "crooked". Just because you "can" do it, doesn't mean it is ethically right to do.

    Thanks for that question so we could be very specific on the answer.

  18. Here's the bigger question for Pete and Dustin. Check Gov. Doyle's campaign contributions for the last quarter of 2008. See if you can find any contributions with a J-Wax connection. Might make for an interesting follow-up story to show the Quid Pro Quo!

  19. Anonymous 10:00am - Stll no real specifics... more opinion-based than anything. I respect your opinion.

  20. All I have to say is WTF? This city sometimes I feel is beyond help and moving far away seems to be an idea that is getting better and better.

  21. Ok is someone could please clarify what it exactly takes to become a historic landmark and let all the homeowners in Racine know. I am sure that with some of these houses, they too could qualify...(all those homes on Summit for instance that were built for the Horlick company) Heck would give homeowners the same break as corporations and make more of an impact

  22. Anon 10:03 -

    Good idea. Fisk Johnson donated $1,000 to Doyle on March 10, 2008 - two months after Doyle issued the executive order exempting the buildings from the tax rolls.

    You can see the donation here:

  23. $1.615 million seems low for the Adm building.

    What would the Honor Project be assessed at, and about how much would the taxes be? More than $100,000/year?

  24. Really, wow! Now they can continue to influence everything. Whisper sweet nothings and get ridiculous favors and we will pick up the tab too. Who is going to still live in Racine? The stepford wives of Jwax? I say this because I do not agree with directions they want our neighborhood to go in. Yet they have all the power and influence. No wonder we have had that PR program for Towerview neighborhood. I didn't see it coming.

  25. I hope they pack up and leave Racine.

    Oh, wait, there is some pretty blue liquid to the east of them that will keep them here for hundreds of years.

    Crooked azz company and city.

  26. Wow, JWax should be ashamed of themselves.
    Grease Doyle's pocket and get major perks.
    Hopefully prison is waiting for those involved.
    Bend over Fisk, Big Bubba wants to say hi.

  27. "I do not agree with directions they want our neighborhood to go in"

    What direction is that? Less crime? Less losers? Less trash? Wow, that sure would suck.

  28. As much as I disagree with the tax exempt status, it would be a shame if SCJ left town. The number of people they employ, the amount of money they donate the local groups, and the "brand name" Racine gets just from having them here is significant. This does not mean they should be able to run the town, but do we really need more businesses to flee town? Haven't we lost enough already?

  29. Based upon the publicly annouced cost to build Project Honor - the property tax on that building alone should be nearly $800,000. Do I understand this article to say that Project Honor is now also tax exempt. Becker received $500,000 from JWax, and in return gave upo $800,000 a year in tax collections. That bill gets passed to home owners in the City of Racine every year thereafter.