Based on the agenda for the meeting, we reported Sunday that city staff was recommending the authority "receive and file" Tom Tousis's $5 million proposal, which is typically government speak for throwing it in the garbage.
But then we received an email from City Development Director Brian O'Connell that said, in part:
City staff has not yet taken any position on the Tousis proposal. City Staff has requested information from Mr. Tousis; we will not be making a recommendation on his proposal until we have received and reviewed that information and the information that Mr. Tousis may present at the public hearing on Wednesday.Interestingly, the JT quoted O'Connell on Monday saying Tousis had not submitted needed paperwork for the RDA to consider his request for a 12-month option on the land.
The Racine Post chose to interpret the “receive and file” recommendation on the agenda for the Redevelopment Authority meeting as a recommendation for denial.
Zak Williams, a spokesman for Tousis, contested this claim Monday. He said the city requested additional information and said Tousis could bring it to Wednesday's meeting.
The JT later dropped O'Connell's quotes from its story about Wednesday's RDA meeting without explanation.
So where do things stand?
Apparently, Tousis has the needed paperwork into the city, and the RDA (the legal owner of the property) may vote up or down on giving him a 12-month option on the land. But even that's unclear because the agenda lists a public hearing, but not a straight-up agenda item, on the project.
O'Connell told the JT the RDA may make a recommendation Wednesday, but he doesn't anticipate them doing so.
We're hearing odds are increasingly likely there will be a vote on Wednesday, but it's unclear if the RDA will grant the option and it could come down to a 4-3 vote either way.
Pete Karas and Scott Terry are reportedly solidly behind Tousis, and State Rep. Cory Mason is likely to support the project because Tousis agreed to use union labor to build the grocery store, gas station, restaurant and bank. Alderman Jim Spangenberg firmly opposes the project, which leaves RDA Chairman John Crimmings, David Lange and Robert Ledvina as the deciding votes.
UPDATE: City Development Director Brian O'Connell called Monday to say the city staff is not recommending that Tom Touisis' West Racine proposal be denied. He said, rather, that Wednesday 's meeting focusing on it by the Redevelopment Authority is a public hearing on the project and there is no staff recommendation. That's contrary to the RDA agenda posted on the city's website, but make up your own mind.
City staff is recommending the city's Redevelopment Authority "receive and file" a proposal to build a grocery store, restaurant, bank and gas station in West Racine.
The recommendation, listed on the agenda for Wednesday's meeting, amounts to dumping the proposal without taking further action. You can see the agenda here.
Tom Tousis wants to build the roughly 25,000-square-foot, $5 million development on the southwest corner of Washington Avenue and West Boulevard. The plan received strong support during a neighborhood meeting on Sept. 30, but there's high-level opposition to the proposal.
Alderman Jim Spangenberg, who sits on the RDA and lives in West Racine, is fighting the project, and a West Racine work group is asking the RDA to adopt restrictions on the vacant lot that would discourage, if not ban, a gas station on the site. Opponents of the Tousis project argue it would be better to wait for the right development than force something that isn't a good fit.
Tousis is fighting back with an organized effort to build support for the development. He's committed to using local union labor to build the project and to preserve the farmer's market on the site.
Wednesday's RDA meeting is an important step for Tousis. He needs the RDA's support to move ahead, because the authority technically owns the 1.5 acres of land he wants to build on. Without the RDA's backing, he won't be able to proceed.