June 6, 2009

Quilts on Barns is back, with three installations

Kathi Wilson with her brothers Peter and David, giving quilt a final touch-up

It was perfect "quilt" weather Saturday for Kathi Wilson. She was standing outside, wrapped in one quilt -- the warm cloth variety, trying to keep warm -- while another -- this one painted on plywood -- was hung on the side of a barn in Caledonia. Quilts on Barns is back.

Ah, bliss!

Wilson, you'll remember, is the woman who came up with the idea of hanging 4-ft. by 8-ft. painted "quilts" on barns last summer, and oversaw the hanging of 15 of them. Well, she and the Racine Arts Council, are back, with another six this year, and the first three of these were hung Saturday morning. The next three will be put up in July. That's both good news and bad news in one: the good news is that more quilts are being hung; the bad news is that it's only six and the project will now end earlier than once planned, victim of the difficulty in finding sponsors in this economic climate.

The first quilt was hung this morning on a barn owned by Bill and Sue Arostegui at 29614 Mt. Tom Rd., Burlington. It's the Vine of Friendship pattern, and was painted by Girl Scouts. Sponsors were JM Electric and Pat & Mark Levine. (The pattern is sometimes called Drunkard's Path; and the backstory of this particular barn quilt is here.)

The second quilt was hung on a lovely, well known barn adorned with large painted letters at one end proclaiming Rose Hill, 1918, owned by Harry and Sherry Gruhn, located at 17201 Old Yorkville Rd., Yorkville. You can see it from Route 20 a little west of Ives Grove. It now sports a Swing on a Star quilt, painted by the Gruhn Family, sponsored by Stericycle.

Rose Hill was the family's farm from great-grampa's day; the barn actually dates long before 1918 -- that's merely the date it was rebuilt after a fire. Sherry Gruhn is one of nine siblings who inherited homesteads when their parents died and the 82-acre farmstead was broken up; five of them live within sight of the barn, and this morning's quilt hanging was an occasion for a family reunion of sorts with a groaning table of breakfast party food. Many friends and family members signed the back of the quilt (as above) before it was hung. The messages probably won't be seen again for another 100 years or so.

Sherry Gruhn, who painted most of the quilt herself, in the barn's basement with help from two of her sisters, said she's been waiting for this day for more than a year; from the time she first heard of Wilson's project she wanted her barn included.

Said Wilson, as the quilt was hung, "The most fun is to turn around and see everybody's face as it goes up...to see all the smiles."

The third quilt went on a barn owned by Chuck and Kari Lee, at 1509 51st St., Caledonia. It's called Mosaic and was painted by employees of Educators Credit Union, and was sponsored by ECU.

Chuck Lee remembers how his barn was chosen: Al Barry, right, head of the Quilts on Barns installation crew was driving around the county, looking for attractive barns visible from well-travelled roads. He knocked on the Lees' door one morning last December -- but Chuck, who had not heard of the project, was cautious. "You never know what people who knock on your door are pushing. I said, 'I'll have to ask my wife,' " Chuck told him ... but when they went to church and mentioned the encounter, many people told them what a good project it is -- not a scam at all -- and the Lees quickly signed on.

They have a 21-acre farm -- on which Chuck, a metalworker, raises beef cattle and outbuildings on which he manages to erect a collection of antique weather vanes. He temporarily took down a beauty -- a copper rooster -- to protect it from possible injury from the bucket lift used to reach the upper reaches of the barn front.

In October, the project will come to an end with a reception at the Racine County Convention and Visitors Bureau. For Kathi Wilson it will be bittersweet; she's disappointed that funding dried up earlier this year than expected ... but eager to get on with some new projects.

Our stories and pictures 0f 2008's Quilts on Barns are HERE.

Festival Hall playground closed for repairs

The playground outside of Festival Park.

This is hardly breaking news, but I guess it's "broken news." The playground outside of Festival Hall has been closed this spring for repairs. The 22-year-old playground is suffering from "wear-and-tear" issues, according to Civic Centre Executive Director Rik Edgar.

The city ordered replacement parts for the playground, but there's no timetable yet for the repairs to be finished, according to Donnie Snow, head of the city's parks. Until the repairs are made, the play area will be closed.

Even with repairs, Edgar suggested it may be time to consider building a new playground. That, of course, will be decided by future budgets.

Beautiful day for a concert ...

A RacinePost reader sent in these pictures from Friday's Music on the Monument. A beautiful Friday drew a big crowd to hear The Roy Edwards Band. Next week's concert features acoustic duo Blue Heron. Here's a full list of the Friday afternoon concerts.

June 5, 2009

Downtown was a giant party on First Friday

When we say everybody was dancing, and smiling, on Friday night -- take our word for it. The joint was jumping.

Downtown was one giant party, as good weather coincided -- finally! -- with First Friday's activities, and there was music, dancing, art, shopping, eating and a generally great time. There were crowds of people happily navigating the construction zone on Sixth Street and enjoying the party atmosphere on Main emanating from Monument Square.

We ran into Mayor John Dickert and his family, off to get the kids' faces painted after dinner; State Sen. John Lehman, Alderman Greg Helding, former City Administrator Ben Hughes, DRC director Devin Sutherland, RCCVB director Dave Blank and lots of other folks.

The Roy Edwards Band kept Monument Square lively

Ah, to be a kid, needing only cotton candy for a good time

Horse and buggy rides were an attraction along the Lakefront

Bob Wolff's 1912 Harley joined other vintage cycles on display

More than a dozen old motorcycles were displayed outside the Racine Heritage Museum, and the star (after my Vespa, of course) was this 1912 Harley. It was bought new by Vince Smerchek, who took delivery on July 12, 1912. Cost: $210, plus $10 for the headlight. Its 500 cc engine produces 3 HP, and it was once driven from Racine to Oklahoma and back. In 1957, Vince gave it to his great-nephew, Bob Wolff, then 16, who has owned it ever since. It runs, but not on the highway: it lacks lights and, more importantly, the three batteries necessary for ignition that once were available for just 30 cents each but now are obsolete.

Wolff says that in one respect it was ahead of its time: "Note the belt drive," he says; "all the new Harleys have that." Of course, it had no gears, just go and stop; although unlike some motorcycles of its time, it does have a clutch. And check out those long handlebars, with the accelerator on the left handlebar! You could really hurt yourself in a sharp turn. Wolff also tells a wonderful story about his uncle using barley to fill the tires when the inner tube could no longer be patched; barley swells more than any other grain when wet, and would allow another day's riding when no tubes were available. Ah, the good ol' days!

Meanwhile, inside the Heritage Museum, there's more about our motorcycle heritage as well as the whimsical exhibit, "Whose derriere sat in my chair."

Doug Chaussee fires a bowl at Hot Shop glass

Tom Hoffman demonstrates portrait drawing at RAM

Billy Boy made balloon animals for a stready stream of kids

Katie LaFond performed on Sixth Street

Joe Kennedy on piano at Crosswalk Park

Car enthusiasts come out to play...

Jerry Zewen and his '37 Ford; behind him is Carl Hipp's '55 T'bird

It was a min-preview of the Hot Rod Power Tour coming here Sunday -- with the warm, sunshiny weather everyone hopes lasts through the weekend.

The playground at Walden III Middle and High School was filled this morning with a few dozen brightly polished cars of all ages -- '30s Fords all the way up to '90s Corvettes, with a few motorcycles, SS Camaros, Pontiacs and even a fire truck thrown in for good measure.

The school's annual car show -- chaired by student Chris Roberts, 16 -- attracted car buffs from all over the region, including some like Jerry Zewen, above, who plans to leave early tomorrow morning for Madison, to join the big Power Tour. Zewen, of Union Grove, was showing off his 1937 Ford 2-door "humpback."

He's just the fourth owner of the car, which was done over -- turned into a hot rod, that is -- about 10 years ago. Zewen has owned the car for two years, having paid "over $30,000" for it -- "You couldn't build it for that," he says. Still, it's a far cry from its original sticker price (if they even had stickers in those days) -- you ready for this? -- of $850.

The all-steel car is completely original, except for the dashboard which now sports air conditioning, an option not offered in cars 70 years ago.

Zewen has "always" had old cars -- a Model A, a '33 Chevy, '39 and '40 Fords -- but this one, painted in Raspberry Pearl, a '92 Chrysler color, is his pride and joy and only hobby car now. He took it last year to Louisville, KY, to a show put on by the National Street Rod Association. That event drew 10,700 cars ... more than twice as many as Racine expects Sunday.

Pray for sunshine.

Something Different: Ron Hybicki's '42 Willys MB Jeep and trailer

June 4, 2009

Student-built gardens take shape at Walden III

Once it was Franklin Street, running through the plot of land now occupied by Walden III School. Then it was a city tennis court adjacent to the Civil War-era school building. Today, it was transformed into an outdoor classroom, meditation space and rain garden.

Scores of students, wielding shovels, rakes and other garden implements, planted dozens of plants, bushes and trees (bought wholesale from Cassity's Tree Service), and moved tons of boulders (with the help of a front-end loader from Kat Construction. The kids -- Walden sixth through 12th graders -- worked under the watchful eyes of the students who planned the garden over the past two years.

Becky Wadleigh, with shovel, helps direct boulder placement

Becky Wadleigh, 17, a Walden junior, was one of the original planners. She remembered the idea's genesis at a Green School committee meeting two years ago. "There were just five students, and we decided we wanted an outdoor classroom." That evolved into the present meditation garden, rain garden and outdoor classroom. "We don't have the greenest building," she admitted, so the environmentally friendly components help correct that.

"We're a science-based school," she said -- adding that science is her favorite subject -- "and we wanted a place we could study native plants, read poetry outdoors."

Wadleigh recalled some of the "hoops" and "roadblocks" the students had to go through to get to yesterday's earth and rock-moving, and tree-planting: Getting the city Parks and Recreation Dept. to give up the tennis court, then the discovery of the street below it, and gave credit to Alderman Jeff Coe, who hovered nearby like an expectant father as the garden took place, for helping them through the bureaucracy. The three-part garden was designed by a class at Gateway Technical College, and assisted by a grant from the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative Network for a 300-sq. ft. rain garden; the students purchased enough plants to double that in size. No taxpayer funds were used.

The hardest part, Wadleigh said, while directing the placement of boulders that would become benches for the outdoor classroom, was deciding what plants were wanted for gardens: "Everyone has his own favorites."

The gardens are adjacent to the Parks and Rec storage building that students decorated two weeks ago with wall-sized mosaic murals.

Gateway gets $141,000 grant for drilling curriculum

Gateway Technical college has received a $141,000 grant from the National Science Foundation Advanced Technological Education program to develop an expanded curriculum to train technicians for the geoexchange industry.

The grant addresses the need for qualified earth drillers by funding curriculum development to train students in drilling for geoexchange systems. Gateway is the only U.S. site to offer training in this type of drilling.

While the Gateway-developed curriculum would be national, Gateway would be the first to provide it to students.

The curriculum would provide for a certified process for geoexchange technology -- specifically drilling -- which could be used as a standalone associate degree program or incorporated into existing college programs such and heating, venting and air conditioning technologies. Gateway has a year from receiving the money to finish the curriculum, to be developed by two instructors.
A shortage of qualified earth drillers is preventing the widespread adoption of ground source heat pumps. Making a drilling curriculum available at a technical community college also would allow recruitment of unemployed, underemployed and dislocated workers, including minorities and females, which is a project priority.

UW-Parkside will partner with Gateway, as well as Alliant Energy, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, 2dx2, Baroid Industrial Drilling products and Ferris State University.

YPR hires new program director

Young Professionals of Racine (YPR) has a new program director. The organization centered on attracting and retaining talent in Racine recently hired Krystyna Sarrazin.

Sarrazin graduated from Marquette University with a degree in Public Relations and has a master's in Public Administration from DePaul University. She moved to Racine six years ago, about the time YPR was founded by Racine Area Manufactures and Commerce (RAMAC).

"I have fallen in love with Racine and its opportunities,” said Sarrazin. “Racine has shown me the opportunities it holds by embracing the Belle of the Ball project I founded in 2005. Just this year, I was able to provide 100 prom dresses to girls who will now be able to afford prom. Given this nurturing environment and the enthusiasm I have for the mission of YPR I believe I can lead the organization into the future and broaden the impact it can make in the community.”

For more information about YPR visit its website, or contact Sarrazin directly.

Committee approves placing sculpture in Uptown

Untitled, by Nic Noblique

The city's Redevelopment Authority approved placing a 9 1/2-foot tall sculpture at a new pocket park being built at 1247 Washington Ave.

Artist Nic Noblique donated the sculpture to the city after he nearly moved to Uptown as part of the city's Artist Relocation Program. Noblique and his family was displaced by Hurricane Ike and briefly moved to Racine. He intended to buy one of the Uptown buildings, but the deal fell through and Noblique moved back to Texas.

The abstract steel sculpture, untitled, is a flowing bright red design that will sit on a 2-foot-8-inch pedestal in the 800-square-foot park. Members of the Uptown Business Improvement District approved the sculpture, said City Development Director Brian O'Connell.

Members of the RDA briefly guffawed at the artwork, but unanimously approved placing it in the park at the corner of Washington Avenue and 13th Street.

The committee asked about potential vandalism to the sculpture. O'Connell said city staff believed the public would respect the artwork. He added staff acquired some of the red paint to cover up any graffitti on the sculpture.

The city acquired the triangle-shaped piece of land from the county. It was a tax delinquent property, O'Connell said.

Along with the sculpture, the city will do some minimal landscaping in the park, including planting trees, he said.

Contractor Vassh and Sons Excavating Inc., of Franksville, was the low-bidder on the project at $3,730. (See the plan here.)

A plaque with Noblique's name will be displayed by the sculpture, O'Connell said.

Night time sawing coming to Sixth Street

Here's an update on the Sixth Street reconstruction:
Most of the curb and gutter on the south side of Sixth Street has been poured and on May 27, crews began pouring concrete for the eleven foot travel lane and the eight foot parking lane.

AW Oakes received permission from the City to engage in limited night time sawing operations beginning May 28. Sawing creates joints in the concrete and is done at a mid-point after the fresh concrete is poured but before it hardens. Variations in temperature affect the time it takes the concrete to cure to the point sawing can occur.

Thanks in advance to residents and business owners for their understanding if sawing is necessary outside regular daytime hours. The project is not without its surprises.
When AT&T workers arrived to adjust five manhole covers over their vaults housing communications equipment, they discovered the vaults needed to be replaced. Oakes is "gapping out" sections of pavement to accommodate AT&T's work in the intersections and both companies are working with Wis-DOT to keep the project on schedule.

Over the next two weeks, the crews will continue to set forms and pour the remaining curb and gutter on the side roads and corners. Paving of the travel and parking lanes
will continue until the stage two work on the south side of Sixth Street is complete.
Outdoor Lighting is scheduled to come in this week to place light pole and signal pole bases behind the curb. Lighting poles will then be set in place and temporary hookups made to provide lighting during construction.

First Friday: The next First Friday is June 5. Crews are aware of the event and will work to make sure the street looks its best possible for the celebration.

Progress Meeting: If you want first hand information on the progress of the project,
plan to attend the next progress meeting, 3 pm, Thursday, June 11, 2009, in
Room 130 City Hall Annex, 800 Center Street, Racine. You can also contact the field office by phone at (262) 619-3556 or fax them at (262) 619-3558.

To be added to the e-blast list to receive this news update, email or call Kris Martinsek at numbers listed at left.

Dollar store gets a second vote of confidence from city committee

The City Council will get another chance to approve a new dollar store on Washington Avenue.

The city’s Redevelopment Authority voted unanimously Wednesday night to re-recommend support for a roughly 14,000-square-foot development anchored by Family Dollar at 1130 Washington Ave. (See our previous story for more details on the development.)

The council had sent the proposal back to the RDA after Alderman Jeff Coe raised questions about the development. The site, the former home of Schaefer Pontiac, sits in Coe’s district.

During its regularly scheduled Wednesday meeting, the RDA initially seemed to favor starting the development process over. Coe, Alderman Michael Shields and the owner of Puma Cycles, located across the street from the development site, all were against the proposed dollar store.

But a strong argument from Kristin Niemiec, of the Racine County Economic Development Council, and Linea Anthony, of the Uptown Business Improvement District, seemed to reinvigorate support for the dollar store development proposed by Abdo Markethouse of Minneapolis.

Niemiec argued the city had issued two requests for proposals for 1130 Washington Ave. already. Sending out a third RFP could turn away Abdo and leave the city with fewer options for the site, she said. “My hunch is we’re going to lose them,” Niemiec said.

She also noted this would be the first new construction in the Uptown area in several years, and the developer is using their own money to pay for the new construction. The development is expected to be assessed at over $1 million.

“Macy’s isn’t coming,” she said. “I hate to break it to the Uptown folk, but it’s not coming.”

“How many times are we going to be able to do this?” she asked. “… this ideal development that doesn’t take a subsidy and everyone wants doesn’t exist. There’s always going to be someone who’s unhappy.”

Niemiec, whose frustration showed through, poked fun at herself. She called herself the “crazy RCEDC woman trying to railroad everything” through the council.

Railroading or not, the RDA listened. The breakthrough compromise came when the RDA agreed to talk to Abdo Markethouse about including groceries or a deli inside the Family Dollar store to serve as a resource for the surrounding neighborhood.

Coe said he would support the development if it included the grocery component. Shields raised questions about how, exactly, the city would convince or require the developer to add those elements.

City Development Director Brian O’Connell said the project had a lengthy review process that would give city officials opportunities to influence the design. But he also noted the Common Council’s vote in two weeks, technically to give Abdo Markethouse a 90-day option on buying the land at 1130 Washington Ave. for $70,000, would lock in the site’s general use. For example, a city committee couldn’t force the developer to abandon the dollar store.

Underlying approval of the development was the impact new construction could have on the entire Uptown area.

Anthony noted the $1 million+ development would lie within the Uptown BID and generate money for the group, which works to support Uptown businesses. The development also lies within the Uptown tax incremental finance district that’s being used to improve buildings in Uptown.

“Trader Joe’s is not coming here,” Anthony said. “We can’t even get a Starbuck’s in Downtown Racine. This is a lot of tax revenue, a lot of BID money that can be used for something down the road.”

Alderman Jim Spangenberg, who sits on the RDA, also noted the city has to be careful about how it works with developers. It put out RFPs and got responses. If it’s constantly turning people away, it could give the city a reputation as being hard to work with.

In the case of 1130 Washington Ave., getting too picky could result in an empty lot for the “next 20 years,” Spangenberg said.

Coe hinted at a possible competing use for the site. He said the developer interested in building a gas station had talked about adding space for a small grocery store and working with neighboring businesses to help them expand.

The RDA approved a gas station for the site the first time around, but had to seek new proposals after the first deal fell through. Shields asked what changed from the first time when the RDA voted for a gas station and the second time it voted for the dollar store.

John Crimmings, chairman of the RDA, said input from Uptown business owners convinced the committee to approve a retail development over a gas station.

Puma, who seemed to oppose the dollar store, said he was hoping the city would work toward a development that would tie together Uptown with Downtown. He didn’t think the dollar store would serve that role.

“We have a golden opportunity,” Puma said. “… I’d hate to see it lost on a rush to judgment.”

June 3, 2009

North Beach again wins 'Blue Wave' certification

For the fifth straight year Racine's North Beach earned a national certification for water quality and habitat conservation.

The Clean Beaches Council once again designated North Beach a "Blue Wave Beach." It's a prestigious award that city officials, led by Dr. Julie Kinzelman, make look easy.

But 10 years ago when the City Health Department began applying for grants to study, and eventually clean up, the beach, the sandy lakefront property was a mess. The beach was frequently closed due to concerns about the water quality and there was little going on there for people to do.

Now the beach is a hotspot of summer activity. Thousands of people visit the beach to swim, hangout at the Oasis or checkout events like the EVP Professional Volleyball Tournament and the Spirit of Racine Triathlon.

Kinzelman, who has given talks about beaches around the world, said a team approach made North Beach's turnaround possible. One example was how the health and parks departments worked closely together to study the best way to comb the beach. They found that scraping the surface and creating a picturesque sandscape actually increased the amount of bacteria that could wash into the water. Now they use a much deeper comb to prevent bacteria from growing, Kinzelman said.

The city also completed some important stormwater utility projects, banned dogs and feeding seagulls on the beach and worked with volunteers to plant grasses and create mounds that prevent contaminated rain water from washing into the lake.

It's this kind of problem solving that other cities along the Great Lakes and around the country are taking note of and trying to replicate, Kinzelman said. While universities and government scientists can share research, Racine offers a real-world example of how to clean a beach - and the positive effect it can have on a community.

Work on Racine's North Beach began under former Mayor Jim Smith after the public complained about how often the beach was closed. The issue came to Kinzelman as a public safety concern. How can the city clean the beach so people can use it without getting sick?

That question led to improved water quality - and all of the fun stuff that came with it. As North Beach came back to life, the North Beach Oasis opened, the city built the Kids Cove playground and events started to appear. The beach is now, arguably, the best beach in southeastern Wisconsin and possibly the entire state.

Kinzelman, a Racine native who was hired by the city in 1990 as a lab technologist, and others are now working on tests that will reduce the amount of time it takes to get back reliable information on water quality at the beach. Racine is working on a DNA test that can determine water quality in three hours - six times faster than the current test. (Incidentally, the test the city uses is for E. coli, but the E. coli is only an indicator of water quality. Unlike E. coli in food, the E. coli found in the lake is itself not harmful - it's just a sign that other contaminants are located in the water.)

The rapid test appears to work, Kinzelman said, but it needs Congressional approval before it can become the new standard. A bill was introduced in the House to allow the tests, and the Senate is also expected to take up a proposal.

Along with North Beach, Kinzelman is also studying water quality in the Root River. The intensive effort is designed to provide public officials with data to make decisions on how to clean and protect the river, she said.

One example is if Waukesha receives permission to tap Lake Michigan it will have to return water to the lake through the Root River, Kinzelman said. If that happens, Racine will want a baseline to judge whether the Waukesha water is harming the Root River.

"You can't gauge change unless you know what you have now," Kinzelman said.

Mayor John Dickert celebrated the designation by noting North Beach was the first beach in Wisconsin to receive the Blue Wave honor.

“This is a great day for the city of Racine” said Mayor John Dickert. “Once again the efforts of Julie Kinzelman working together with the Parks Dept. and Public Works have rewarded our citizens and visitors with one of the cleanest beaches in the country.” For more information on the Clean Beaches Council see here.

Dickert added, “This reminds people across the country that Racine is one of the best destinations in the Midwest to spend your summers.”

The news comes as the mayor prepares to attend the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative Conference this month, where the use of water from Lake Michigan will be one of the topics.

The first national environmental certification for beaches, the Blue Wave designation is given to beaches which uphold a rigorous set of environmental, ethical, and water quality standards.

June 2, 2009

VROOOOM! The hot rods are coming...

"The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys."
-- Author unknown
I've always thought Mae West said that, but a search through the 'net provides no known author -- only lots of examples of those expensive toys some men crave: $75,000 watches, $10,000 digital cameras, a gold-plated AK-47, boats...

And, of course, high-performance cars!


Which reminds me, the hot rods are coming! Upwards of 4,500 of them will take over Downtown this Sunday, blocking streets, taking up all the parking, their owners filling all the hotels, restaurants and stores for miles around. And, more importantly, giving all us guys something to drool over and dream about...

The Hot Rod Magazine Power Tour visited here two years ago on a rainy day not much suited to them or us. (As I write this, the long-range weather forecast is "chance of thunderstorms" on Saturday, so we can only keep our fingers crossed.)

Weather aside, it seems an inauspicious time for car enthusiasts to polish up the objects of their affection and take them for a seven-day, seven-city road trip. Gas prices are climbing past the $3 a gallon mark, Chrysler and GM are both in bankruptcy -- what the hell were they thinking? But it turns out, according to Jerry Pitt, publisher of Hot Rod magazine (and of Car Craft and Hot Rod Deluxe) that this miserable economy hasn't hurt the hot rodders ... or even those who cater to them, journalists like himself.

"This is the worst downturn ever," Pitt said over a beer during an advance visit. "But this is the magazine's best year ever. It depends on your perception of reality." We talked a bit about the troubles newspapers are having and he noted, "Affinity media don't have the same problems." Hot Rod's circulation is a hefty 675,000. Pitt earned his chops early: his father owned a body shop and was a hot rodder after the war. "I knew at a young age I wanted to work at a hot rod magazine," he said.

"People have a love affair with their cars," he says. The down economy helps in one way: car prices are reduced, so more guys can acquire that car they've always wanted ... and, of course, soup it up! When Hot Rod magazine was started, in 1948, "hot-rodding," "hop-ups," "hopping up engines" were all derogatory terms, he said, all synonyms for causing trouble. "Owners made performance cars out of vehicles Henry Ford never would have."

But today, a hot-rodder is "anybody who has pride in their car and has made it their own. Owners are very enthusiastic." Verrry enthusiastic ... as in shipping their cars over from South Africa, or Australia just to join the week-long Power Tour, which begins Saturday in Madison -- the final stop of last year's tour -- and ends in Bristol, TN, with a reception on Saturday, June 13, just for the "Long Haulers" who participate in the entire tour.

But the best day will be this Sunday, when the hot rods are here. And not just for us: Hot Rod's website says this: "From Madison, we'll make the short trip over to Racine simply because we felt this was among the best venues of all time, despite the rain in 2007."

And what's so special about Racine, you ask? Well, you'd have to visit some of the other stops on the tour, where the cars are relegated to "a lot of dusty fairgrounds and large parking lots," according to Jessica Hubley, who's helping market the tour. "We don't get embraced by many towns."

Embraced they will be in Racine. The 4,500 cars, and about 10,000 drivers and their passengers, will have all of Downtown to enjoy Sunday: Blocked off for the hot-rodders' exclusive use are Pershing Drive, Main Street from Third to Seventh, and a good hunk of the cross streets (see map; click to enlarge). There will be 40-50 vendors set up on the grass at Gateway College, and a free concert by the Last Call Trio at Festival Park (open to everyone, including us) from noon to 4 p.m.

Dave Blank of the Racine County Convention and Visitors Bureau confirmed that the RCCVB paid $35,000 to ensure that the tour stopped here; money that will be spent many times over at local hotels, retailers, restaurants and gas stations. In '07, even with the rain, the tour brought more than $1.3 million into the local economy, according to Blank.

This is the 15th Hot Rod Magazine Power Tour, its stated aim being to provide "a traveling celebration of power, performance, styling and all things automotive." The GM Performance Division is expected to display some special cars, including a Pontiac G8 GXP four-door, 425 HP screamer, as well as a Cadillac CTS-V. (The cars are driven on the tour by GM employees who won a lottery allowing them to participate -- on their own vacation time.)

Some 65,000 spectators are expected to view the touring hot rods at the seven stops on the tour. And there is something special for everyone, including a chance to win a 2010 Camaro SS Indy Pace Car, worth $33,000. Entry forms for the car sweepstakes -- no purchase necessary, yada yada -- will be at this website from June 6 to June 12. Second prize is a 350 HP engine from GM's Performance Division.

Local car enthusiasts who wish to show their car for the day can do so at any of the tour's stops, for $25, which provides a vehicle decal and credentials for the driver and one passenger. To pre-register, call 1-877-413-6515 or visit www.hotrod.com.

Hal the Halibut makes his first appearance

OK, all you people who said you hadn't heard of the Civic Center's new Music for the Halibut concert and Friday fish fry series: Tell it to Hal.

Hal the Halibut, that is. He's the Civic Center's new mascot, designed to improve awareness of the concerts wherever Racinians hang out. We told you last week he was coming, and today he made his first appearance. Rik Edgar, executive director of the Civic Center, says you're liable to see Hal anywhere around town. "With no formal agenda," he says, "Hal has let us know that he only wants to bring a little attention to Festival Park and the Music for Halibut Music Series."

No, we have no idea how he'll do that, beyond pointing to the banner above. Anybody know what kind of accent a halibut has?

The saving of Josephine

By Maggie Skovera
For RacinePost

Late in the Fall of 2008 a family noticed a lonely figure eating the rotting gourds from their Halloween Display. It was a rugged, long-haired Tortoiseshell cat.

She was so starved the rotted gourds were her meal for the day. The family was unable to get near. In winter they saw her again, padding on her large, extra-toe, polydactyl feet. They felt helpless to help her as they could not get close enough.

The family decided they had no choice but to teach her to trust them with food. They began to set out bits of food for the cat in hopes of gaining her trust so they could get her the help she so desperately needed. It began to work.

In the Spring of 2009 they found the cat with a new batch of kittens in a window well. Time had run out to befriend the cat; now other lives were at stake. Countryside Humane Society was called to pick the litter up. The agents at CHS brought the cat with her tiny kittens to the shelter. They had been able to just pick the cat up with gloved hands, but once caged she hissed and growled at passersby.

That is the day I met Josephine. I looked in the cage and saw the beautiful kittens, and this girl who seemed to be protecting them. Something in her eyes told me she was not as aggressive as she pretended to be. I took her and her young family home with me into foster care. I placed them in a large cage on soft bedding with fresh water and food.

Josephine approached my hand as I set the water down and nudged it as if to say thank you. By day three I could pick up Josephine and she trusted me to clean her cage and move her babies onto fresh bedding. Soon she perched on my lap and I could feel how hard life had truly been for Josephine. Her long coat was tangled tightly to the skin, her odor was let's say not pleasant, her hip bones protruded from her skinny frame, and she wheezed when she breathed.

How the kittens found nipples to feed from, I had no idea -- until I saw Joesphine tearing out her hair to make more room for them to access her. I began the slow process of trimming the hair one small section at a time as the hair was so tight to the skin even my razor blade could not fit between the matts and the skin to cut it.

In the next week Josephine showed me what a lovely girl she truly was. She always used the litter box, always greeted me when entering the room, and always rubbed my hand when I put food down. She readily jumped in my lap.

Unfortunately, her newborn kittens developed the same telltale upper-respiratory wheeze Josephine had, and passed away. I had other motherless ill kittens in my home and Josephine stole them from their boxes and proceeded to care for them.

Now their story has a happy ending thanks to Josephine. Being larger kittens they were able to fight off the upper respiratory infection and become well. Josephine is gaining weight, getting stronger; she is naked now except for a small amount of hair I was able to save. Every day she sits on my lap and thanks me and all the others who have contributed to saving her, just by being a most pleasant cat. But I am just a foster home; extended family allergies make me a poor candidate to adopt Josephine.

Who will love her? Who will see through the exterior of this skinny, bald cat to her inner beauty? Who will adopt her and give her the indoor, last-a-lifetime home that she deserves? Until she is completely well and until I find this home for her, Josephine will be mine to sit on my lap after a long day, and purr out her gratitude, and I will care for her and thank her for coming into my life to leave those big polydactyl kitty tracks right across my heart.

The shaved Josephine waits for a permanent home

To meet Josephine, call or visit the Countryside Humane Society at 2706 Chicory Road, or call (262) 554-6699.

And as for our last dog, Hector, the frightfully groomed poodle with a pouf left atop his head, we have good news. He was adopted last week. Hopefully, his new owners will let his coat grow out...

Shaw looks to develop leadership within Racine Unified

Racine Unified Superintendent James Shaw met with the Racine Unified School Board on May 28 to review his first nine months as head of the school district. The far-reaching conversation touched on several issues facing our public schools. We're breaking down the meeting by topic and will post stories over the next few days reporting on the meeting. See our first story here.

Superintendent James Shaw is reorganizing Unified's central office to focus on his priorities and to allow top administrators to develop priorities of their own.

Shaw’s plan puts district administrators in charge of different issue areas – such as redistricting, school safety and curriculum – and, by the sound of it, will push them to become the district’s leader on those issues.

It solves a couple of problems at once, Shaw said. First, it gets people working everyday on key problems in the district. Second, it improves leadership within the district and sets a succession plan if any leaves.

“We do want to build a pipeline of people for the future,” Shaw said. “We need three or four internal people assuming higher level positions.”

Part of Shaw’s plan includes hiring a full-time deputy superintendent to replace Jack Parker, whose interim contract expires at the end of June. But Shaw was cautious with the position, which will combine three vacant jobs into one. Following Van Atta’s advice from the business world, he told the School Board he wouldn’t hire someone unless they were a perfect fit.

“If we don’t have the right person, we won’t move,” Shaw said.

School Board Member Dennis Wiser said Unified needs to get away from relying on the superintendent to make improvements.

“We can’t afford to start over every time a superintendent leaves,” he said.

Shaw agreed.

“The big responsibility I have is succession, providing leaders to you, that you can have the flexibility of promoting within,” Shaw said. “You need to have some internal options to take a look at.”

He added: “We should be losing leaders to other school districts. That’s where we should be.”

Plan aside, Shaw said Unified has work to do at simply getting along both internally and with the community.

“The distrust thing is still here,” he told School Board members. “There is still significant distrust with people.”

The antidote, Shaw said, is creating a vision for success that everyone can follow.

Historic home owners debate the need for city supervision of their houses

Photo from the proposed historic district by Pete Selkowe

The city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission drew 125 people and the new mayor to a public hearing Monday night to gather input on a proposed historic district in neighborhoods from Eighth Street south to DeKoven Avenue.

The majority tilted against the district, which would place restrictions on renovations to historic properties. Opponents argued the district would take away property owners’ rights without compensation. They added it ignored the larger problem of rundown homes in the district that needed work.

Supporters, who were well represented at the hearing, said the district would protect a historic neighborhood.

Mayor John Dickert sat in on the hearing, but didn’t offer an opinion. His main role was to settle down an enthusiastic crowd that opened the hearing by clapping and cheering for the first opponent who spoke. Dickert said such outbursts wouldn’t be allowed so everyone felt comfortable addressing the commission.

City Planner Matt Sadowski said the ordinance was designed to prevent a new home built next to an old home that wasn’t in keep with the neighborhood.

He showed slides of new homes that overpowered neighboring houses and another historic home covered in bad siding and a poorly built porch. “We’re trying to protect the structure and protect the character” of historic homes, Sadowski said.

Monday’s meeting was the first in a long process to get a historic district approved. The ordinance would have to pass the landmarks commission, then go througha public hearing with the Plan Commission, pass that commission, then go through a public hearing with the City Council and then pass the City Council.

The ordinance isn’t on a fast track. The landmarks commission won’t consider the proposal until July 6, and may not even vote on the proposal at that meeting.

If Monday’s hearing is any indication the proposal will face spirited opposition from libertarian-minded residents concerned about government intervention into people’s homes. Opponents took turns arguing the ordinance violated their Constititional rights, took away their personal freedoms and hinted at the coming collapse of our society.

Lost in their argument were the practical aspects of an ordinance that likely contains more flexibility than many suggested. While historic properties would undergo review for significant renovations, the ordinance is more interested in protecting the appearance of buildings than historical accuracy.

For example, if the owner of a historic home wanted to replace windows they likely wouldn’t be limited to wood frames. They could use aluminum or vinyl as long as they maintained the historic look of the building, Sadowski said following the hearing.

But the ordinance seemed to strike a deeper chord with people than simple renovations to buildings. Many who spoke argued the ordinance simply encroached on their rights as property owners. The city’s intention may be OK, some argued, but they weren’t interested in city input on any decisions on their homes.

“These properties are not yours,” implored one College Avenue resident.

Photo from the proposed historic district by Pete Selkowe

Landmarks commission member Eric Marcus ran the public hearing. He noted the proposal didn’t originate with the commission and that commission was simply gathering information from the public to consider how it wanted to move forward. Commission members offered no opinions Monday night on the proposal.

Wayne Clingman and a few other speakers offered a possible compromise. He suggested the city allow people to opt into the district if they want to.

Others went the opposition direction. They wanted every home in the district subject to the ordinance.

Any new construction in the historic district would be included, Sadowski said. But just because there’s a vacant lot doesn’t mean there will be a historic-looking home built. The ordinance only asks designers to consider surrounding homes in the new construction. For example, is the home roughly the same height as its neighbors?

There’s a good example unfolding now on South Main Street where a boxy modern home is being built among historic houses. Even with the historic district, Sadowski said, the modern home could be allowed because it fits in with neighboring structures.

But former mayor candidate Jody Harding saw a more sinister side to the proposal. Harding, who doesn’t live in the proposed district, invoked Ayn Rand in her opposition to the historic district, which she called a step toward a society where no “I” exists. She called the proposal “un-American.”

Roy Ramquist, 1526 College Ave., tried to lighten up the heavy hearing with an off-color joke. He noted one of Racine’s first mayors lived in his house. “There are no pictures of underaged women in the attic, so I guess he was OK,” Ramquist said. Dickert and the commission didn’t crack a smile at the quip.

Jokes aside, Ramquist suggested a compromise of have the historic district only apply to new construction.

Photo from the proposed historic district by Pete Selkowe

Supporters of the ordinance talked about their love for the neighborhood and their hope to preserve it in the future.

“All of the people I know who live in this area truly love their homes,” said Carole M. Johnson, 1742 College Ave. “… where we live matters deeply to us. We appreciate your concerns for our neighborhood.”

Another woman wanted to know how her Park Avenue home could be included in the historic district. She said the ultimate goal should be to have every home in the district.

“A historic district can benefit absolutely everybody,” she said.

But John Pettinger, 905 Main St., wasn’t buying it. He said the ordinance amounted to forcible restrictions on peaceful citizens and called the proposal “disgraceful.” He promised to take a historic door in his home, cut it into pieces and give one to each member of the landmarks commission if the historic district was passed.

Michelle Ortwein, 1428 Wisconsin Ave., supported the district. She saw it as an opportunity to receive information and help in restoring a historic home.

Randy Moles, 1833 S. Main St., backed the proposal as a safeguard on new construction.

“If the house burns down next to me, there’s no restriction on what could go up there,” Moles said. “The value of my property relies on the value of the properties around me. We’re all in this together.”

But Joshua Bloom wondered about the need for the ordinance. The historic homes in the district are well cared for, so why do they need what amounts to city supervision?

“I don’t see what problem you’re trying to protect,” he said. “We maintain our houses with no compulsion of any law. We’d be nuts not to keep them up.”

“If you do want to preserve the neighborhood, handpicking the best homes won’t do it,” Bloom said.

A couple of people asked why the DeKoven Center wasn’t included in the historic district. DeKoven is located just south of the district’s border. City Development Director Brian O’Connell said the construction of Lake Oaks senior apartments divided DeKoven from the rest of the district, so the property was left out.

Marcus asked if the commission could add the property. O’Connell said they could.

Alex Sarrazin, 1753 College Ave., opposed to the ordinance as presented. While he appreciated the intent, he didn’t see much upside for the owners of historic homes.

“Frankly, what’s in it for me?” Sarrazin asked.

Marcus assured the crowd that the historic district was still under discussion. While a proposal is out there, it’s not a guarantee it will pass, he said.

“This is not a done deal,” he said. “This is the public hearing for us to understand your concerns.”

June 1, 2009

SC Johnson, city emails offer intimate look
at how company secured tax exemption

Foster+Partners rendering of Project Honor's Fortaleza Hall being built on SC Johnson's Racine campus.

SC Johnson used considerable influence, resources and ingenuity to convince former Mayor Gary Becker and Gov. Jim Doyle to approve a property tax exemption for the company's Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and the new Fortaleza Hall, according to company emails obtained by RacinePost.

The collection of emails from 2007 and 2008 provide an intimate look at SC Johnson's top executives orchestrating the deal that one email from an SCJ vice president suggests could save the company $400,000 a year in property taxes. SC Johnson Spokeswoman Kelly Semrau verified that the emails were authentic, but said some of the emails provided to RacinePost were taken out of context.

We've reviewed the emails and and are reprinting select quotes from them as they relate to Becker's deal with the company to trade the property tax exemption for money for the Uptown arts district.

The emails show SC Johnson sought the exemption to limit the amount of taxes it's required to pay on the new building under construction on the company's Racine campus. They also show a close tie between Becker's plans for Uptown and a property tax exemption, and SCJ's ability to successfully lobby the governor for the exemption.

All told, it was a remarkable effort by SC Johnson to minimize the company's taxes, and a questionable decision by Becker to support the exemption -- which ultimately will cost the city, county and RUSD a fortune -- without making it public.

For its part, Semrau said SC Johnson was upfront with Becker about its intention to seek the property tax exemption for its Wright buildings and Project Honor. State law allows the governor to issue executive orders to exempt architecturally significant buildings from property taxes. It also allows educational tourist centers adjacent to the historic buildings to be tax exempt.

SCJ used the law to secure an executive order from Doyle to exempt its Administration Building and Research Tower, and the new Fortaleza Hall next to the Administration Building, from property taxes.

"There is nothing the company did that was wrong," Semrau said. "It was a legitimate tax situation."

The Tax Exemption

The leaked emails begin in March 2007 with company officials pondering ways to limit property taxes on the new Project Honor, which was looking at a $52 million price tag (see below).

On Wednesday, March 28, 2007, Robert Randleman, vice president-corporate tax counsel, wrote an email to Jane Hutterly, executive vice president of worldwide corporate and environmental affairs, seeking guidance on "the company's desire to save property taxes on the Project Honor building additions."

Randleman wrote:
Alternatively, if we were to reduce the annual tax tax cost but agree to provide the city with a one time contribution to develop Uptown, the overall savings would be significant. Also, there is a significant possibility that once the Fortaleza Hall is completed and the plane is in place, the city could assess personal property tax on the aircraft. This would not be the case if the building received a state exemption.
Hutterly responded on April 9, 2007:
My perspective, Bob, is we should take the tax exemption that is appropriate under the law. I also will have some discomfort if this means we are really pushing the regs; while not adding any new jobs; as it could appear that the "rich (Fisk / family) only get richer" when Racine needs the tax revenue. Under the current scenario, I would assume that that would mean the community building is not tax exempt. That portion could be TIF'ed and we could also supplement that with contributions as needed.
Semrau said the tax exemption was not a requirement for Project Honor. SC Johnson would have built the buildings without the exemption, she said.

But the exemption paid off for the company. While Semrau estimated the exemption would save the company between $190,000 and $240,000 per year, one email suggested the number could be closer to $400,000 per year.

Randleman wrote to Fisk Johnson on Jan. 7, 2008:
Attached is a copy of the Executive Order - to be signed by Governor Dole (sic) ... As a result of this designation, we anticipate that the FLW buildings and Fortaleza Hall will be exempt from real estate tax resulting in an annual savings of approximately $400,000.
Racine Unified

Early on, SC Johnson was sensitive to the Racine Unified School District losing tax revenue, according to emails. SC Johnson's Brian Anderson, program manager for community development, responded to a question from Scott Frey, SCJ's director of corporate services and facilities, about Unified losing tax revenue if the Administration Building and Research Tower are tax exempt.

Anderson wrote on May 17, 2007:
The schools lose $8,234 per year if the FLW buildings are excluded. In the total scheme of things at Unifies (sic) this is not a significant amount of money. I am not sure what the district would do with 10,000 annually that is off the tax rolls. One potential idea for the schools is to provide updated technology to them annually in some amount.
Semrau said SCJ does not have a plan to reimburse Unified for tax revenue lost to the exemption of the FLW buildings.

Project Honor's Fortaleza Hall will serve as an educational tourist center for people visiting SC Johnson. This rendering from Foster+Partners shows Fortaleza Hall with Frank Lloyd Wright's Research Tower in the background.

Educational Tourist Center

SCJ carefully considered how Fortaleza Hall could be included in Doyle's executive order. State law allows an educational tourist center adjoining a historic building to be included in the property tax exemption.

Frey wrote Anderson on May 17, 2007 asking:
Is the tax exemption provision written specifically for FLW or simply any historical landmark? Will we have some requirements around displays, messages, etc in Fortaleza Hall in order to assure we are meeting the intent of the exemption?
Anderson responded: "???" But subsequent emails show the company making changes to Project Honor to secure the tax exemption.

The company did not initially call for the Project Honor buildings to be open to the public, Semrau said. But the tax exemption for Fortaleza Hall required public access, she said. (Note: Semrau contacted RacinePost after this story was published to clarify that if SCJ had not received the tax exemption it would have still built Fortaleza Hall. "But maybe we wouldn't have opened it to the public as one example since keeping buildings open to the public are expensive due to upkeep, security, tour guides, etc.," Semrau wrote in an email.)

SCJ will hire tour guides and allow visitors into the building, which will pay tribute to the story of how HF Johnson flew the Carnauba airplane to Brazil to study the carnauba palm tree that launched the company's fortune. Sam Johnson and his sons retraced the trip in 1998.

Initial plans for Fortaleza Hall did not include educational exhibits for tourists.

Randleman wrote to Kristine Banan, title unknown, on June 1, 2007 (Note: MEA is an internal SCJ acronym that Semrau declined to define):
There is little doubt that the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings are architectural landmarks. I would like to see the MEA emphasize the fact that the adjacent Fortaleza Hall will be used as an educational tourist center. This could be accomplished by changing the fifth sentence in the fifth paragraph to read:

"The Hall will provide an area for employees to informally meet and will be used as an educational tourist center for visitors to the Frank Lloyd Wright administration building, Golden Rondelle and other areas of the SCJ campus."
Randleman wrote on June 6, 2007:
Had a brief conversation with Fisk today - he emphasized the fact that he wants us to proceed with the property tax exemptions for Project Honor. He said that we could include specific displays in the exhibit if it would assist us in proving that the exhibit is indeed an educational tourist center. Next step is for Jane to send the presentation deck to Fisk and she and I will meet with him to answer any questions.
Public Relations

SCJ officials carefully considered the ramifications of the tax exemption becoming public - something that didn't happen until RacinePost broke the story on May 7. (See a summary of our coverage on this story here.) The company was particularly concerned about a planned Journal Times story on Project Honor's groundbreaking. Hutterly didn't want taxes mentioned with the story, which was given as an "exclusive" to the JT.

Hutterly wrote to Randleman on Aug. 29, 2007:
I'm confident we can weather the storm on this and any outcry over the FLW / FH application to the state, and ultimately, the time of all of this would be connected by those who are doing their homework and would want to say that SCJ is trying to avoid taxes and doing their part. That said, it would be helpful to us on the public side if we could stagger the actions on all of this.
She added: "It would be very disappointing to all of us if a side bar article on the new building was "SCJ avoids taxes."

Fisk Johnson wrote Sept. 4, 2007 to Randleman:
"... if we want to delay the action (actual filing that may become public?) in this exemption process to avoid something ending up in the papers at the same time as the ground breaking article I leave that to Jane and you to decide. I assume if it is easy enough to make a short delay of the filing (?) and not incur any financial risk and avoid the risk of this ending up in the paper at the same time... then that sounds like a good thing. I would assume the PR to be manageable either way."
Cost of Project Honor

The actual cost of Project Honor is expected to reach $52 million, according to an email. That far exceeds the $36 million figure SC Johnson had shared in the past. Semrau said the $36 million number is the cost of construction of the building. The $52 million figure is the total cost of the project, including landscaping, furnishings and items other than construction, she said.

Hutterly wrote on Aug. 31, 2007, to Scott Frey and others with the subject line, "Fisk's $$ on PH with the Press":
What number are you comfortable sharing with the press? I'm not comfortable with $52MM. How about the construction number of $36.5MM?
Lobbying for the exemption

SC Johnson lobbied the governor for the tax exemption in the summer of 2007, according to emails.

Randleman wrote to Fisk Johnson on Aug. 31, 2007:
"The Pricewaterhouse Coopers representative that will be meeting with Secretary Berk on behalf of SCJ will also be accompanying the Commerce Secretary and Governor Dole (sic) on an Asian trade mission starting September 10. The PwC representative hopes to be able to take advantage of this time with Ms. Berk and the governor to informally pursue the topics discussed during the September 5 meeting and further advocate SCJ's position. This is a fortunate opportunity."
The company also worked Becker for his support, which was secured in November 2007, according to emails. Chip Brewer, director of worldwide government relations, wrote to Michael DeGuelle, SCJ's former state tax manager, on Nov. 12, 2007:
Mike - I spoke to Gary Becker and he is prepared to support SCJ if he gets a call from the Gov's office.
Brewer also wrote on Nov. 20, 2007:
Good news. I just spoke to the Mayor. He happened to be in the Governor's office today with a group of mayors on other business. Susan pulled him aside and asked him about Project Honor and he gave his strong OK.
Becker actually pushed former assessor Tom Kienbaum to sign a letter of support for the exemption. Anderson wrote on Feb. 13, 2008, to Jane Hutterly, Chip Brewer and Theresie Bode:
The assessor has to send a letter to Mike declaring the property tax exempt which is then forwarded to State to finalize this process. The meeting went very well and the mayor was very supportive and kept asking where does Tom sign. The city assessor is retiring at the end of the month so could put this off for his replacement to do, which the mayor assures me wouldn't happen.
Kienbaum didn't actually sign the letter. His successor Ray Anderson signed it on June 2, 2008. The letter, written to DeGuelle, reads:
We have no objection to you submitting the exemption application and our Office confirms its support for the full and timely implementation of the Executive Order's intentions.
Uptown TID

SC Johnson and the city worked closely together to create the Uptown TID, which will use an estimated $166,000 in property tax revenue from Project Honor's Community Building - it's not exempt from property taxes - to make improvements to the area, according to emails.

Semrau said the city approached SC Johnson about the Uptown TID. Emails among top executives indicate SC Johnson knew about the TID in June 2007 - six months before the idea was made public.

Fisk Johnson wrote an email June 7, 2007 to Hutterly stating:
I would like to push for as low an appraised value on the community building as possible (but I am fine agreeing to putting whatever that tax might end up being, based on that lowest appraised value, into a tif).
Hutterly responded on June 7, 2007:
We will put the final plans in place to do that and further make sure that your planned meeting with the Mayor next month coincides at the right time with our approach to the State for the tax exemption. We will also prepare appropriate key messages for the Becker meeting.
On Jan. 4, 2008, Brewer wrote to Brian Anderson, Jane Hutterly and Kelly Semrau:
Mike reports that this has gone to the Governor's desk for signature, probably within the week. We do not expect any press announcement about this. After this is signed, we can let the Mayor know and he can begin the TIF process. That is a public process and it is my understanding there would be publicity surrounding the TIF and the City's plans for Uptown development. We will need to work with the Mayor on those announcements and any announcements about SCJ contributions.
Brian Anderson wrote to Brewer and DeGuelle on Jan. 10, 2008:
I believe that these are two next steps, first a meeting with the city assessor to have the FLW properties taken off the tax roll and to inform him that Fortaleza Hall is not taxable and second, inform the city that we are ready to create a spot TIF to benefit Uptown.
Becker appeared to carefully consider the value of Project Honor in working out plans for the TIF district and the tax exemption, according to emails obtained from the city of Racine. He wrote to Anderson on Aug. 27, 2008:
Brian, just to follow up on our conversation a few days ago. It is my understand that the assessment of the property will be a minimum of $20,000,000. Please confirm if I have this right.
Anderson replied Sept. 2, 2008:
Gary, we have estimated that the construction cost of the taxable portion will be in the area of $20 million, however the actual assessment is determined by the state. We have not stated any amount as a minimum but we will not challenge the assessment that the state assesses.
$500,000 for Uptown

SC Johnson originally wanted to pay the city $30,000 a year for 10 years for Uptown, according to an email. But a series of emails showed the total increase to $500,000 and shifted from a 10-year payout to a five-year payout. The shorter time frame was crafted to maximize the benefit during Becker's second term in office.

Here's Anderson in the May 17, 2007, email (the "he" refers to Gary Becker):
I would go $30,000-over 10 years that is $300,000, which is what he would receive in 20 years under the current tax bill. This grant can be used for what he would like and doesn't go against the general levy or budget.
SC Johnson Chairman and CEO Fisk Johnson wrote June 7, 2007 to Hutterly:
I wonder if we have a better chance of getting the mayor's support if we agree to $100,000 over 5 years versus $50,000 over ten years (since it will be more impactful to his term in office). I leave that to you to decide.
SCJ has yet to make its first payment on the five-year, $500,000 plan, according to city emails. That fact seemed to concern Racine Development Director Brian O'Connell in an email he wrote to Brian Anderson on April 16:
The flyer for the next speaker at the Rondelle came in an SCJ envelope. I thought it might be the check for the Uptown grant. But it wasn't. Everything still OK with that?
Anderson replied April 17:
Everything is OK, but some here want to meet with you and the new mayor after the election to make sure everyone is still on the same page. It is harder with some things here than at City Hall. The money is still committed but probably won't get to you until end of June, first of July. Sorry that this has to be so complicated.
SC Johnson reviewed the TIF budget and raised questions about some of the items planned for Uptown. In an email to O'Connell on Nov. 13, 2008, Anderson asked to see marketing materials planned for the TID and raised questions about the city's budget for the district. Anderson wrote to O'Connell:
Not sure why $50,000 would be needed for the Island at 14th as it already exists and it would seem that to put plantings into the island would not cost $50,000, but maybe I am missing something.
O'Connell replied on March 2, 2009:
The Uptown Association has discussed having an "identity feature" (fountain? planter/garden?) at the island. I like the idea but it is very vague at the moment.

The marketing item is for targeted marketing of the Uptown buildings to "artists." Advertising in specialized publications is one use. This is an item that could benefit from your insights and the insights of any SCJ marketing wizards.