September 12, 2009

Lone Wolf Riders share memories of Ken Vetrovec

Jan Vetrovec holds plaque honoring Ken, a k a 'Walking Eagle'

There were stories about Ken Vetrovec Saturday morning, but no tears, as half a dozen of his fellow Indian motorcycle-riding buddies came together, with his wife, Jan, to hang a memorial plaque in his honor at the Redline Tavern, one of his favorite haunts.

The former County Board chairman was killed in July when his motorcycle ran off the road near Ely, Nevada, on the homestretch of a Route 66 trip. But there was no dwelling on the tragedy Saturday, just fond memories and the trading of stories involving Ken.

Jan recalled how Ken got his motorcycle. "He had wanted one for most of his life, but until he inherited some money he couldn't afford it. I came home from teaching school one day and there was this motorcycle in the garage. I had no idea. 'Is somebody missing it?' " she asked Ken. " 'No, it's mine,' he told me," she said.

He'd bought it off eBay, and went to Fond du Lac with a friend to pick it up. That was in 2002, and the cycle was a 2-year-old red Indian Chief. It became his pride and joy; he even bought a sidecar to take his son, Paul, who has Down's Syndrome, on rides around town. When Paul, who is now 25, outgrew riding in the sidecar, Ken sold it to another family with a disabled child. "It's gone to another good home," Jan said. Jan and Ken have two other sons, Dave and Brian, and one granddaughter, now five months old.

The friends who got together at the Redline Saturday, all members of the Lone Wolf Riders, read "a tribute of remembrance, for the good times that brought us together. Ride on, Brother, Ride on." They decided to put the memorial plaque at the Redline because "we didn't want to put it in the desert, where it would just come up missing."

Ken's clothes have been donated to HALO, but Jan brought two dozen of his motorcycle t-shirts (all neatly washed and folded) for his friends to hand out at future gatherings.

Jan and the Lone Wolf Riders
examine Ken's souvenir t-shirts

The plaque has the outline of an Indian cycle, and Ken's name, as well as his Lone Wolf Riders nickname, Walking Eagle. The friends who met with Jan today -- BlueLou, Misbear, Little Bear, Fast Chief and Red -- said they were representatives of other club members, all across the country. "A lot of them are here in their hearts," they said.

Earlier story HERE.

Spirited bidding marks end of Sunny and Chair Tour

Jamie Metz' Happy Tree Frog went for $1,600

The Sunny and Chair Summer '09 Tour officially came to an end Saturday, as the beautifully decorated Adirondack chairs that have been displayed Downtown all summer were auctioned off.

Eighteen of the chairs were sold by voice auction, raising a total of $20,200 for the Downtown Racine Corporation, sponsor of the annual summer art project. The total raised by the 37 chairs sold afterwards via a silent auction was not available.

Sue Horton's Fall Back (and Relax!) sold for $3,100

The chair that brought the most money was Sue Horton's Fall Back (and Relax!) which was bought by its sponsor, her husband, Daniel, for $3,100 after spirited bidding. Horton, who usually paints in acrylics, watercolor and pastels, has prepared entries for a number of previous Downtown art projects, including Racine’s Dog Days of Summer, Cat’n Around Downtown, Bears, Bears & More Bears and Bird is the Word.

Sherri Shaver's 1st prize Peacock Chair bench sold for $2,300

Sherri Shaver's Peacock Chair bench, a stunning glass mosaic that won the $2,000 first prize in this year's competition, sold for $2,300. At right, she receives her prize from Terry Leopold, DRC's director of special events.

Tied for third highest price among the regular chairs were Jamie Metz' Happy Tree Frog and Sherri Shaver's Vincent's Chair; each sold for $1,600.

The large chair displayed at Monument Square all summer -- and the subject of "literally thousands" of pictures, according to DRC executive director Devin Sutherland -- sold for $2,100. It was painted by Doug and Diane Soller.

At the auction, DRC also announced the winner of its Name the Barrel Boys Sixth Street mascots contest. The winner is Sherri Myers Wray, who submitted the names Cautious Clay, Monument Ali and Gorge Foreman. The new name for the barrels themselves is The Three Constructioneers, which was submitted by Cameron Fair.

One little, two little... 13 little Indian motorcycles!


An important part of Racine's motorcycle history rode off in all directions Saturday, as the remains of Robert Hansen's motorcycle dealership was auctioned off, piece by rusty piece.

Hansen, right, started selling and servicing motorcycles on Douglas Avenue fifty-one years ago -- back in 1958 when Eisenhower was president and Bart Starr was still a rookie quarterback. He moved to his present location on Washington Avenue in 1971 (by then, Nixon was president and the Packers' quarterback was Scott Hunter).

Today it all ended. Hansen, who suffered a stroke five years ago, and another just two months ago, sat sadly by as his wife, Jane, and son, Jesse, oversaw the auction by All States Auctioneer's Bob Bornheimer of hundreds of lots of part, tools and motorcycles. There were 65 motorcycles in all, mostly Honda and Yamaha, but the piece de resistance unquestionably was Hansen's collection of Indian motorcycles, which sat in the middle of the shop floor as the auction progressed, with everyone waiting expectantly.

Hansen's Indians were all from the first Indian era, which began in 1901 and ended with the company's failure in 1953. (It was reborn again in 1999, but that's another story.) Hanson's wife, Jane, recalled a phone call a few weeks ago from someone who heard about the sale:
"How many Indians do you have?" he asked.
"Thirteen," she replied.
"Nobody has that many Indians!" he said.
But he did. Hansen's were late-model Indians, mostly from 1949 to 1951, in varying condition. Some were pristine, ready to be ridden or even shown; others were "original," and a few came with "parts." Hansen's favorite was a '49 Indian Arrow, 250 cc, completely rebuilt in the original Dupont Sunshine yellow paint. It was a beauty, and went for $7,500.



There were seven 500 cc Warriors, two '49 Scouts and some more Warriors; all went for prices ranging from a low of $1,750 to $6,000.

"This has been his whole life for fifty-one years," Jane said, "But he just can't work on them anymore. After his first stroke, he went to therapy, hoping to get well enough to ride again." But it didn't happen. Bob Hansen is 80; Jane is 66. "He robbed the cradle," she joked. Their 47th anniversary is coming up on Sept. 20.

The store was a three-generation affair. Son Jesse worked there for 30 years. He remembers wanting to ride a motorcycle when he was five, only to be told by his dad, "You put it together, then you can ride it." Jesse said he assembled two bikes before he was allowed to ride. By the time he was 13, he was racing, alongside his dad. Between them, they have dozens of trophies, mostly for ice racing.

Jesse's son, Jesse Jr. is also an ice racer and a motorcycle mechanic. One of the motorcycles not put up for auction Saturday was "grandpa's" original ice racer, a '49 250cc Indian. "I'm going to rebuild it," said Jesse Jr. "I brought all the parts home."

September 11, 2009

Tousis submits plans for West Racine grocery store, restaurant and gas station; Announces he'll use union labor on project

Local businessman Tom Tousis submitted plans to the city Friday to build a grocery store, restaurant, bank and gas station in West Racine.

Tousis's proposal for the corner of Washington Avenue and West Boulevard differs from the one he talked about in July. He eliminated a proposed car wash and expanded the grocery store to 10,300-square-feet of retail space. (Initial plans called for 6,500-square-feet in retail space.)

He kept the 165-seat diner called "Gus's Diner," a small bank and a gas station. The proposal also would preserve the West Racine Farmer's Market.

Tousis said Friday he expanded the grocery store in response to critics, including Alderman Aron Wisneski, concerned he wanted to open a gas station with a convenience store. Adding 3,500-square-feet to the grocery store, which will include produce and a meat department, clearly elevates the project above a convenience store, Tousis said.

Wisneski confirmed he did raise concerns about the car wash when Tousis first made the project public, but said he still needs to review the official proposal to decide if he'll support it. At a glance, Wisneski said, the grocery store and restaurant appear to be two items West Racine residents have wanted for several years. But city officials need review the details to see if the proposal holds up to scrutiny.

"Tom's plan, just like any other development, will sink or swim on its merits," Wisneski said.

Along with submitting plans Friday, Tousis also announced he would use all union labor on the $5 million project.

Tom Reiherzer, of the Tri-County Contractors Association and the Southeastern Wisconsin Building & Construction Trades Council, confirmed Tousis signed a project labor agreement on the project, which would lock him into using all union contractors.

"He wants union workers from Racine first," Reiherzer said, "and he'll expand to Kenosha if he has too."

Wes Gable, president of Teamsters Local 43, said the project would bring needed jobs to the local unions. He estimated 20 percent of union workers in Racine are out of work.

"I sit on a council with 14 different (building) trades," Gable said. "They all have guys on the bench, looking for work."

Racine Theatre Guild comedy 'Hotbed Hotel' searches for a deeper farce

Randy Rehberg and Anne Mollerskov in Hotbed Hotel


The challenge with acting in a farce? Not being farcical.

That's from Herschel Kruger, who is directing the Racine Theatre Guild's new comedy, "Hotbed Hotel," which opens tonight and runs through Sept. 27.

Kruger, head of the theater department at Carthage College, as a British-style comedy set in America. The play, written by Michael Parker, centers around a couple trying to sell a one-star hotel, and everything that goes wrong as they make one last attempt to woo a buyer. (Click here for the cast and more on the plot.)

Kruger said the tendency in a play like "Hotbed Hotel" is for actors to get caught up in the eccentricities of the script and overact their parts.

"The trap is to overdo it," he said. "What we've tried to do is eliminate those moments."

The key for the cast is grounding their characters by creating real moments of interaction on stage. From there, Kruger said, the comedy can build throughout the play.

"If you can act with your partner without creating some kind of gimmick the audience will be with you," he said.

"Hotbed Hotel" is Kruger's first play for the Racine Theatre Guild. He's been a theater professor at Carthage for the past five years and lived in New York City for six years building scenery and working just about every other theater job imaginable.

Kruger complimented his cast for putting in longer hours outside of their day-to-day jobs.

"They work eight hours during the day and three or four hours at night rehearsing," Kruger said. "It's a busy group of people. They're very committed."

The cast includes:

Mary Kveton - Terri Cody
Brian Schalk - Brian Cody
Randy Rehberg - Sam Lewis
Andrew Wallace - Maintenance man
Laura Bambrick - Maid
Mike Shelby - Major Posenby
Stacey Duchrow - 'The Barracuda'
Anne Mollerskov - Ashley
Sam Shelby - Dorothy

Director
Herschel Kruger

Production stage manager
Kelli Kauzlarich
Set Designer
Maureen Kruger

Performances of “Hotbed Hotel” are scheduled on the three weekends between Sept. 11 and 27. Show times have changed this season. Each weekend there are performances at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. There are also performances at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 19; at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 20; at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 24; and at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26.

In conjunction with their sponsorship, radio stations WRJN and Lite Rock 92.1 will be giving away prizes. At the Sept. 26 evening show, hotel keys will be distributed for a contest at intermission with prizes, including an overnight hotel stay. At the end of the run, winners will be drawn from participants who have filled out entries at the Theatre Guild throughout September.

Tickets cost $16 for the 7:30 p.m. shows and $14 for all others. Discounts are available for seniors, season subscribers, groups and students (not recommended for young children). Season tickets, both flex passes and five-play packages, starting at $50, are still available. Box office hours are 12 to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 90 minutes prior to curtain through intermission at performances. For further information and reservations, call 262-633-4218 or the RTG on the web.

Local LGBT Center sponsors billboard on Highway 32


The Racine/Kenosha LGBT Center announced Friday it was sponsoring a billboard on Highway 32 promoting the website, GayNeighbor.org. Here's the press release from the center (billboard pictured above):
The bright new billboard on Highway 32 just south of County Line Road (KR) shows smiling men, women and children of different ages, ethnic backgrounds, marital status, and sexual orientations.

Whether they’re lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, the stated message remains unchanged: “Family. It’s all about love!”

Sponsored by the LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin in partnership with the Cream City Foundation and nearly 40 community organizations, the billboard facing north, 400 feet south of County Road KR in Kenosha/Racine, is one of many to be found throughout the metropolitan Milwaukee area as part of Cream City Foundation’s Gay Neighbor campaign.

Transit signs, paper and digital billboards, and Spanish language signage direct commuters and passersby to www.GayNeighbor.org, where they are encouraged to learn more about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) issues and to read stories of real-life LGBT people or the people that love them actually living within our community.

“Putting a face on an issue that some people may find complicated or difficult to comprehend often helps us to realize how much we have in common and how petty some of our differences really may be,” says Dr. Bruce Joffe, the LGBT Center of SE Wisconsin’s Executive Director. “That’s why we wanted to sponsor this message on such a busy road in our area: to promote our shared humanity and values held in common.”

In addition to Racine and Kenosha, commuter freeway routes in Milwaukee and the Ozaukee and Waukesha suburbs are heralding this same themed message.

“The Gay Neighbor billboard media are part of a public education campaign that challenges stereotypes about gay families in Southeastern Wisconsin by asking people to take a look at what a gay family really looks like,” says Cream City Foundation’s Executive Director MarĂ­a Cadenas. “These billboard images of real neighbors illustrate our shared values of love, family, and commitment—emphasizing fairness for everyone, including gay and transgender people and their families.”

The billboards will remain up at least throughout September.

This is the second consecutive year that Southeastern Wisconsin has seen Gay Neighbor billboards and media aimed at creating more LGBT-friendly allies.

Lone Wolf Riders will honor Ken Vetrovec with a plaque

When Ken Vetrovec died in July, he was riding his beloved red Indian Chief motorcycle, on the homeward leg of a cross-country trip that brought him from Racine to California on legendary Route 66.

Tomorrow, the national club of Indian Chief enthusiasts -- the Lone Wolf Riders -- will honor Vetrovec, a former chairman of the Racine County Board with a memorial plaque at his favorite Racine watering hole, the Redline Tavern, 1200 North Wisconsin St., at 11 a.m.

"Indian Dave" of Ohio, former president of the Lone Wolf Riders, said Vetrovec had attended all but one of the club's annual pow wows, since the Indian motorcycle -- which began in 1901, predating Harleys -- was revived in 1999 after a 46-year hiatus. In the early part of the last century, Indian was the world's largest motorcycle manufacturer. (It has since died and been reborn yet again.)

Vetrovec spent some time in Oklahoma with fellow Lone Wolf Riders before his fatal accident near Ely, Nevada, on July 6.

Indian Dave remembers Vetrovec -- "Walking Eagle" was his club nickname -- as "a stand-up guy, very involved in the Boy Scouts, the community and as a family member. That's what we promote."

Painter Anna Pagnucci mixes real, abstract in new show at Racine's Northern Lights Gallery

When Anna Pagnucci received a commission for paintings of a village in Europe, the local artist had to adjust her abstract style to create a sense of place.

The adjustment resonated with Pagnucci and guided to an impressive series of oil and enamel paintings now on display at the Northern Lights Gallery, 423 Main St., in Downtown Racine.

"It moved me in a whole new direction," Pagnucci said about the commission.

Northern Lights is putting up nine of Pagnucci's paintings for sale and hosting a reception for the artist on Saturday from 2-7 p.m. The paintings center around representational elements amidst abstract scenery.

Pagnucci (right) said the paintings were intended to give viewers a starting point, like a row of houses, and then an invitation to wander among the abstract elements. "Hopefully it reminds people of something," she said. "It gives you something to see representationally and then allows you to connect through your memory and other levels of perceptions."

Here are some examples from the show:

Anna Pagnucci, "Dock Workers" 24x30” oil and enamel on panel, 2009

Anna Pagnucci, "Shadowed Alley" 37x35” enamel on canvas, 2009
(Based on an alley in Racine)


Pagnucci's showing at Northern Lights is her first solo show in Racine. She went to undergrad at UW-Platteville, earned a master's degree in art history from UW-Milwaukee and a Masters in Fine Arts from the Academy of Art University. She's now an instructor at Marian University in Fond du Lac and teaches classes at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. Shelives in Caledonia with her husband, Ryan, and their two daughters. (You can see more of her works at Portal Wisconsin.)

Pagnucci grew up with artistic influences. Her father was a poet and her mother is a professional puppeteer. Both encouraged her artwork and in high school she was winning awards and getting shows. As an adult, she's had shows in Chicago and northern Wisconsin, and recently had a piece at the Wustum Art Museum for the Racine and Vicinity Show.

Pam Viroglio, co-owner of the Northern Lights Gallery with her husband Jack, said Pagnucci's paintings had a unique quality that jumped out at her.

"Her use of colors is fantastic," Viroglio said. "There's an originality to them. She uses oils, but not in a way I've seen."

The Viroglios met Pagnucci when she stopped in the gallery during a Downtown event. They asked to see Pagnucci's work and were impressed enough to build a show around the paintings. Pam added they liked Pagnucci because, in addition to being a talented artist, she's a nice person.

"That's a requirement for showing in our gallery," she said.

A reception for Anna Pagnucci's work will be held Saturday, Sept. 12 from 2-7 p.m. at Northern Lights Gallery, 423 Main St. in Downtown Racine. Music during the reception will be provided by The Dog's Breakfast, a group of UW-Parkside music students led by Brad Karas.

Here's two more of Pagnucci's paintings that will be on display:

Anna Pagnucci, "Over the Water," 48x72” enamel on canvas 2009

Anna Pagnucci, "The Road from Town" 36x36” enamel on canvas, 2009

'Raytown Roadhouse' proposed for Sixth Street

The Raytown Roadhouse's mechanical bull passing Monument Square Saturday afternoon.


Update: A centerpiece of the new Raytown Roadhouse arrived Saturday. Jim Spodick and Pete Karas bought a mechanical bull for the first floor of the country western-themed bar they hope to open in the former Century Market building.

Here's Karas riding the bull ...

Karas riding the bull.


Original post: Jim Spodick and Pete Karas are teaming up to open a new restaurant and bar in the former Historic Century Market building on Sixth Street.

The duo applied for a liquor license to open the "Raytown Roadhouse" at 506 Sixth St. The two-story business will have a Country-Western theme with a full restaurant, bars and live music.

The proposal will start the city approval process next week.

The Roadhouse's business plan features a chophouse restaurant, several bars, a VIP room and a stage for live country music and line dancing.

The restaurant could open this month and Spodick and Karas hope to secure a liquor license by mid-October. They had to pay $10,000 to apply for one of the city's reserve "Class B" licenses; most of the fee will be refunded once one of the city's 121 regular license - a number set by state law - is freed up.

West Racine 'work group' gathers input on vacant lot

Three aldermen and two development officials organized a "work group"of eight or nine West Racine residents and business owners (13-14 people in all) to discuss development at the corner of Washington Ave. and West Blvd.

The group quietly met a few times in recent weeks to collect ideas on the property and put together a formal recommendation to the city's Redevelopment Authority, which owns the vacant land. The group originated in response to a proposal to build a 55-unit senior housing development on the site. Neighbors strongly opposed the idea and the project was rejected by the City Council.

Officials hoped to avoid a similar scenario by gathering public input and putting it into a request for proposal for the site that would specifically rule out certain businesses (like a payday loan).

Work group members included: Aldermen Jim Spangenberg, Terry McCarthy and Aron Wisneski, as well as City Development Director Brian O'Connell and Racine County Economic Development Corp's Kristin Niemiec. There was no formal chair of the work group.

The group's work comes at a time when Racine businessman Tom Tousis is ready to propose building a grocery store, restaurant and gas station on the site, as well as maintaining the existing farmer's market. Some officials oppose a gas station on the site.

A draft set of recommendations for the site was sent to RacinePost Thursday, but we were told the list did not reflect the recommendations the group would make to the RDA. The list we acquired, which originated at the meeting, included a list of deed restrictions on the property and a requirement that any development maintain the farmer's market.

The group agreed to scale back the restrictions, in part, because they asked Tousis to hold off on his proposal until after it finalized its recommendations. Allowing the restrictions to go forward ran the risk of the city seeing Tousis' plans, asking him to delay them, and then passing legislation that would, essentially, kill what he hopes to build. We're attempting to obtain the revised list of recommendations from the City Development Department.

Work group members are planning a public meeting (the meetings so far have not been noticed) later this month to unveil the recommendations and solicit public input.

September 10, 2009

No money for Lathrop Ave. lights ... or is there?

We had a story last week about Alderman Aron Wisneski attempting to find about $16,250 for decorative lamp posts for his constituents living on Lathrop Ave.

Nearby streets have the lights, and Wisneski argued the lights made sense to maintain the continuity of the neighborhood. But city staff disagreed and the council, meeting as a committee, split 7-5 in favor of giving the decorative lights to the Lathrop Ave. residents. The full council will vote next week, and may kill the request.

There's an interesting side note to this story that speaks to the oddity of city government. The main argument against the lights was, simply, there's no money. That makes sense given the economy, tight city budgets, dwindling tax base, and so on.

But it's really about motivation. Just this week the Finance and Personnel Committee found $38,737 in the parks budget to replace lights in Island Park. It also agreed to move $103,500 from the city's "Street Light Removal" account to pay for professional services related to stimulus money for street lights.

No doubt both votes were reasonable and prudent. But it's clear city staff - and City Council committees, to some degree - can find money when they want to. It's just a matter of who they want to help.

(As an aside, it also shows the difficulty of government oversight. Even City Council members have trouble tracking the thousands, even millions, of dollars the city's professional staff is responsible for. Full-time employees hold a lot of power, in many cases, more than any elected official.)

Property Transfers: Danish American Home sells for $2.4 million

Racine County Property Transfers, Aug. 31 to Sept. 4 (Click for interactive map)


The Danish American Home at 5111 Wright Ave. in Racine sold last week for $2.4 million. The building provides assisted-living apartments for seniors. The building opened in 1993 with room for 50 residents. The building and property was not assessed by Racine County and paid no property taxes through 2008. The last listed sale price was $100,000, according to county records.

The second largest sale in Racine County last week involved two real estate companies. Savaglio & Cape real estate sold its building at 1557 S. Green Bay Road for $785,000. Shorewest, which recently acquired Savaglio & Cape, now has a sign on the building. The office is located on a half-acre of land and was assessed this year at $693,100.

We're told former Mayor Gary Becker and his wife Julie sold their home at 3020 Chatham St. The four-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot house was listed at $269,900 (and is still listed online). It was assessed at $231,000 last year.

Click here for a spreadsheet of this week's property transfers.

Racine County added to ash borer quarantine

Although no emerald ash borer insects or larvae have been found in Racine County -- yet -- the state has added us to its emergency quarantine list.

Quarantine rules for Milwaukee, Waukesha and Racine Counties go into effect on Monday, Sept. 14, according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s emergency rule to establish quarantines on materials that could transport emerald ash borer. A Federal quarantine for these three counties is expected to be enacted soon.

Ash borers were found in August in the town of Franklin, in Milwaukee County, and in Kenosha County, thus surrounding Racine County.

The quarantine rule will restrict the movement of products outside of the quarantine borders that could transport any of the life stages of EAB. Products such as ash logs or timber and all species of hardwood firewood cannot be moved outside of the quarantine area without state or federal approval. Certification for firewood movement is available to firewood dealers only. Ash nursery stock cannot be moved under any circumstance because it is impossible to determine if the young trees are infested without damaging the tree beyond salvage.

The tree-killing emerald ash borer has been discovered so far in seven Wisconsin counties: Brown, Crawford, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Vernon and Washington. As of Sept. 14 state or federal EAB quarantines will exist in 11 counties including Brown, Crawford, Fond du Lac, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Sheboygan, Vernon, Washington and Waukesha counties.

A public hearing on the emergency rule will be held on Oct. 15 from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Franklin Public Library, 9151 W. Loomis Road in Franklin.

If you like rummage sales, don't miss this one!

In January we told you of the sale of Racine's historic Fire Station No. 1, located on Racine Street, to become part of SC Johnson's buffer around its corporate headquarters. SCJ has said it will preserve the building, constructed in the early 1900s.

Still, this weekend may be your best chance to take a closer look at the building, as owner, Roger Olshanski, cleans it out and gets rid of some of his .... um, stuff. Olshanski is a collector, accumulator, packrat with eclectic tastes, and he's been filling the cavernous fire station with his finds for almost 30 years. Stuff like swords, books, pictures, 4-foot long inflatable Budweiser dirigibles, statuary, paintings.... Amazing stuff, and an amazing amount of it. (But not the painting Olshanski bought for $20 and later sold for over $1 million...)

Bridget Thoresen of the Journal Times did a nice story on Olshanski last week.

Anyway, Olshanki, having sold the fire station, is now selling some of his stuff. The fire station is open today through Saturday, and Olshanski is on hand to give you a good price on whatever catches your eye. Trust me, I did not enter the firehouse to buy anything, only to gawk, but I left with the lovely metal Christmas decoration below. Olshanki quoted me a price I just could not resist. Even my wife was impressed. Olshanski says he'll be putting out additional stuff as the sale progresses. I think that was meant to bring me back...

Chairs today, gone tomorrow...


Together again ... for almost the last time.

Racine's 2009 Summer Art Project's Adirondack chairs -- formally known as the Sunny and Chair Summer '09 Tour -- came together in Monument Square Thursday afternoon, a prelude to Saturday's auction which will split them up forever.

The 55 chairs that have been displayed Downtown all summer were collected from around Downtown, in preparation for the sale Saturday afternoon. They will go on display in Monument Square at 2 p.m. and the voice auction begins at 3 p.m. to raise funds for the Downtown Racine Corporation which puts the arts project together each year. Auction details are here.

Terry Leopold, right, DRC's director of special events, has high hopes for the auction -- in part based on the interest the chairs received all summer and also because of the chairs' ... well, usefulness. The most successful of the summer art project auctions have been the first one, dogs, and the lighthouses. Least successful: the spheres and bears. "People didn't know what to do with them -- and they were so big," Leopold recalled.

But the chairs... well, besides being beautiful, you can sit in them! There will be 18 sold at voice auction, and 37 via silent auction. Prices begin at $350.

Uptown restaurant may include a coffee shop; Massage business approved at Regency Mall

Plan Commission meeting, Sept. 9.

A new restaurant in Uptown may also have a coffee shop, the owner said Wednesday.

Gerald Bester, who plans to open "Gerald's" restaurant at 1501 Washington Ave. next spring, told the Plan Commission he's close to securing a deal with a Milwaukee's Stone Creek Coffee to open a cafe for the site.

The cafe would add morning hours to Bester's plan, with Gerald's opening daily at 7 a.m. The coffee shop would close daily at 7 p.m., while the restaurant stays open until 11 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, and 10 p.m. on Sunday.

The Plan Commission approved the additional hours as part of Bester's conditional use permit for the site, which is the former home of "The Bank," and "The Vault." The permit now needs final approval from the City Council.

Body Oasis Massage

A body and foot massage business is moving into Regency Mall.

Hua Ying Sun is planning to open Body Oasis Massage in the former D.O.C. Optical store in the mall. The store will be Sun's second. He also runs a massage business at the mall in Fond du Lac.

Curt Pruitt, manager of Regency Mall, visited Sun's Fond du Lac shop. He described the business as an open and appropriate service. All massages are fully clothed in chairs or on a table. Cloth screens may be used to divide people using the service or to block the front window.

Sun estimated between 10 and 20 people use the service daily in Fond du Lac.

The Plan Commission approved a permit for Sun's business on Wednesday. It now needs City Council approval.

Taylor Home

The commission approved a residential facility for developmentally disabled adults in two buildings on the Taylor Home campus at 3131 Taylor Ave.

JML Healthcare Services LLC will run the program, which will accommodate up to 16 adults. Audrey Viau, chairwoman of the Village of Elmwood Park, said no one objected to the residential facility during a public hearing Tuesday night.

"We're looking forward to having them," Viau said.

J. Michael Grasso, of JML Healthcare, said eight residents will attend a shelter workshop - like Careers Industries - during the day, and eight are more severely disabled and will require more intensive care. All 16 will be supervised 24 hours a day, Grasso said.

The commission approved JML Healthcare's permit, which now moves to the full council for approval.

Follow up on judges story

Last week we ran a story looking at why incumbent Circuit Court judges are rarely challenged for their seats, despite being elected officials. Here's a list of when Racine County Circuit Court judges are up for re-election:

2010 - Stephan Simanek (retiring) and John Jude
2011 - Dennis Barry and Emily Mueller
2012 - Richard Kreul
2013 - Gerald Ptacek
2014 - Charles Constantine
2015 - Faye Flancher, Wayne Marik and Allan Torhorst

(We're still trying to track down when each of Racine County judges were elected or appointed to the bench. If you know, please post in the comments.)

Appeals

During the story, lawyers suggested we look at Appellate Court rulings as a way to evaluate judges. The Appellate Court posts its decisions online, so we reviewed the past three months. Here are the local cases that were overturned on appeals:

Judge Stephan Simanek was reversed on a case involving the former James Cape and Sons Company. The case dated back to 2004 when Cape, a road construction company, learned an employee was conspiring with other construction companies to rig bids. Simanek had ruled an insurance company was obligated to represent two companies, but had failed to do so. He had awarded the companies a combined $1.15 million because Zurich Insurance Company failed to defend them. The Appellate Court disagreed and cleared Zurich from having to pay the settlement.

Simanek was also partially overturned on a second case involving Cape and Sons. In this case, Cape argued the companies that conspired to fix bids - Streu Construction and Vinton Construction - were responsible for it filing bankruptcy and going out of business. The companies, which worked with a former Cape employee to rig the bids, argued Cape itself was at fault for the scheme because its own employee was in on the conspiracy. Simanek agreed with the companies, but the Appellate Court disagreed and sent the case back Circuit Court for trial. The Appellate Court used an 1866 law to justify its ruling. Here's the explanation:
We are bound by Zulkee. Moreover, its commonsense logic makes as much sense today as it did in 1866. Holding otherwise would mean that employees could disregard their employer’s business model in favor of a model wholly to the employees’ own liking. What a world it would be if employees were allowed, without recourse, to decide for themselves the means and methods an employer uses to earn the revenue projected in its plans. It is for the employer to decide the question of how it is going to make money to survive and grow. An employee cannot take unilateral ownership of that question. Allowing anarchy to control employer-employee relationships is not a policy the courts have endorsed. And we do not do so now.
Judge Richark Kreul was reversed in July on a criminal case involving a Racine man who refused to testify. In 1998, Derrick Howard was charged with first-degree homicide along with Lorenzo Johnson. Howard refused to testify against Johnson and was charged with contempt of court. Before that charge went to trial, Howard was moved to a prison in Oklahoma and returned to a Wisconsin prison in 2002. He went to trial on the contempt charge after he brought the case to the attention of the District Attorney's office in 2007. Howard was found guilty of the charge, but the Appellate Court ruled nine years was too long to wait for trial. They threw out the conviction, concluding Howard's right to a "speedy" trial was violated.

Judge Allan Torhorst was reversed in July on the case involving a Caledonia man who illegally kept the head of a deer that wasn't properly tagged. John Longo, of Caledonia, mounted the head of a deer that was hit by a car. The DNR found out about it and fined him for not having a permit. The case went to trial and Torhorst ruled Longo had to pay a $1 fine and turn over the head at the DNR's request. The DNR appealed the ruling because it disagreed with the time frame Torhorst put on its request to seize the deer head. Longo didn't respond, so the Appellate Court overruled Torhorst and told him to order Longo to turnover the deer head immediately.

September 9, 2009

Our former congressman running for governor

Former 1st District Congressman Mark Neumann -- he represented us from 1995 to 1998 in the seat held since then by Paul Ryan -- formally threw his hat into the political ring today ... this time for governor.

A Republican who left the House of Representatives in 1998 when he unsuccessfully challenged Russ Feingold for the Senate, Neumann officially announced his campaign today, listing a number of key issues in an online news conference. Neumann had filed papers to run in July.

One of those issues couldn't be more timely: KRM commuter rail: Neumann questions its economic viability.

More about his campaign event today from WisPolitics, HERE.

Dickert: Sales tax increase will lower property taxes, improve transit

Mayor John Dickert makes the case for a sales tax increase.

Mayor John Dickert is saying publicly he supports increasing the local sales tax.

Political suicide? Maybe not.

Dickert said he backs Gov. Jim Doyle's plan to use a sales tax to pay for regional transit, including buses and commuter rail, because it could save property owners money. Here's the rationale:

1. Money collected from a sales tax could pay for city buses, offsetting the city's $1.5 million contribution to the Belle Urban System. (The $1.5 million number comes from City Administrator Tom Friedel, who pulled it from the 2009 city budget.)

2. Eliminating $1.5 million from the city budget would reduce the property tax about 24 cents per $1,000 - or roughly $24 on a $100,000 home. (The 24-cent number comes from the city's finance department.)

3. Of course, the property tax relief would come at the expense of a sales tax increase. But you'd have to spend $4,800 on taxable items to reach $240 in increased taxes. In other words, simply pulling the buses out of the city budget would save property owners money.

4. A sales tax for the RTA would generate enough money to improve regional transit - a change from the annual cuts to local bus service. Dickert said he wants to see Racine buses going to Kenosha, Caledonia, Union Grove and South Milwaukee. On the west end of the county, he'd like to see Milwaukee buses connecting Burlington. "We need a true regional system," Dickert said. "We need to stop talking about as borders we can't cross."

5. A sales tax is spread over a wider base than property taxes, which are paid by a select group of area residents. Everyone buys things subject to sales tax.

All that said, Dickert acknowledged it could be a difficult sell throughout the county. Democrats Cory Mason and John Lehman have both come out against a sales tax, and KRM commuter rail backers are still leaning on a rental car tax to pay for the train service through Racine County.

But Dickert said a sales tax would provide the framework to create a transit system that would attract businesses to southeastern Wisconsin and connect workers in Racine to jobs throughout the area.

"That's my push," he said, adding he'd work with Lehman, Mason, County Executive Bill McReynolds, and others to pursue the sales tax. "Our biggest failure will be if the train and regional transit system are not put into effect. We will set ourselves back if we don't do something."

Mount Pleasant to host half marathon this spring

Dean Reinke

No doubt, Dean Reinke loves to run. But he loves getting other people to run even more.

The founder of Reinke Sports Group will do his part to get local residents to lace up their running shoes with the Mount Pleasant Half-Marathon next spring.

The 13.1-mile race, which will start and end at Case High School, is expected to draw 1,000 runners in its first year with the goal of drawing as many as 5,000 runners in five years. Scheduled for April 10, the half marathon is part of a national circuit of races run by Reinke Sports Group.

"The half marathon is really the new marathon," Reinke said. "It's exploding in popularity, especially among women. It's a phenomenal accomplishment to go 13 miles."

(Right: Brennan Kane, deputy director of planning and development, shows the route for the Mount Pleasant Half Marathon.)

Reinke was in Mount Pleasant Wednesday to introduce the race, which he described as a major event that will help the village establish its identity as a community.

"I'm cautiously optimistic ... that in five years this will be one of the largest half marathons in the Midwest," he said.

Reinke plans to market the race in a 300-mile radius that includes eight states. Along with the half marathon, the event will include a 5K run and a 1-mile fun run, plus live music and entertainment following the races. 150 medals will be given out for finishers in different age groups and categories, Reinke said. Money won't be offered to race winners, in part because the half marathon is focused on participation, not elite competition, he said.

"Our goal isn't to create a world-class event," Reinke said. "It's to create a mass participation event."

The race is sponsored locally by Razor Sharp Fitness, which will offer training classes for people who want to compete in the race. Reinke said 6 months is enough time for people to train for the half marathon or the 5K, depending on fitness level.

Brennan Kane, deputy director of planning and development for Mount Pleasant, mapped out the 13.1-mile race. The race starts at Case and makes a rough loop west on Stuart Road, north to Highway K, down to Emmertsen Road and back to Case for a victory lap around the track. The route includes a stretch on the village's Pike River Pathway.

The half marathon is the latest big-time athletic event hosted by the Racine area. Dave Blank (left), president and CEO of the Racine County Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Racine's triathlon, pro beach volleyball stop and three on three soccer tournament have established the area as a capable host for events.

"Our reputation is we put on a high-class event," Blank said.

He added that organizers expect the race to support Racine's major summer race - the Lighthouse Run. The races are two months apart and runners will have plenty of time to recover if they want to do both.

"This should in no way hinder the Lighthouse Run," Blank said. "It will add to the greater running community."

Running communities is something Reinke knows about. An elite runner at Indiana University (he ran a 4:02 mile and a 2-hour, 24-minute marathon), Reinke got started organizing community races on weekends as a grad student.

Over time he developed his love for running - and getting others to run - into a company that announced a nationwide half-marathon circuit last month. (Along with organizing races, Reinke still runs every day - sometimes at 3 in the morning, if that's the only time he has available."

"I've been fortunate to pursue my passion and make it a part of my life," he said.

Here's background info on Reinke's half-marathon circuit. A website for the race will be launched this week.

September 8, 2009

Where's the money? Doyle's RTA plan ignores Racine's big question

Gov. Jim Doyle's latest attempt to craft a regional transit authority for southeastern Wisconsin was released today.

Frankly, at this point, it doesn't make much sense. Doyle wants a unified RTA for Racine, Kenosha and Milwaukee counties, but he'll start with something called a "sub-RTA" and try to induce Racine and Kenosha to join with some sort of matching funds. (Milwaukee will pay for its RTA with a 0.5 percent sales tax, a proposal Democrats say is off the table for Racine.)

But there's a couple of problems with Doyle's plan. First, Milwaukee County gets what it wanted all along - a sales tax to pay for its ailing bus system. What more do they need? County Board Chairman Lee Holloway said as much in the J-S.
That was a key point for Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway, who has said bus transit faces dire funding needs that take priority over commuter rail.
In other words, Milwaukee County doesn't need Racine and could really care less if KRM commuter rail is built.

Here's another problem: How will Racine pay for its "sub-RTA"? Presumably the money would go toward paying for the Belle Urban System, which could reduce property taxes in the city. But where would the money come from? A wheel tax? (That idea has sat out there for awhile - and would have to come from Racine Mayor John Dickert). A rental car tax? (And how many cars are rented in Racine?) Some other mysterious source of money? (If so, it'll have to pass a referendum, according to Doyle's guidelines.)

The state's carrot here appears to be a deal to provide matching funds for Racine and Kenosha if they create sub-RTAs. That may work something like this: Racine creates a wheel tax and collects $X millions per year. The state agrees to match $X million dollar-for-dollar. In that scenario, Racine doubles its money for property tax relief by taking buses off the tax roll - and using state money to pay for half. Not a bad deal ... but where would the state money come from?

Doyle suggested a rental car tax - or the state's transportation fund. The latter, which is funded with the state's gas tax, is an interesting possibility. Would a state that's spending $2 billion on road construction in the next two years really shift money for road construction to public transit?

Realistically, this could be it for KRM. There's no money right now for anything, and any sort of extra tax will face a helluva challenge from just about everyone. Plus, everyone seems focused on transit at the moment, which seems to leave little room for commuter rail.

Here's the info we have to go on:

Doyle's statement today
Doyle's "Basic RTA Structural Guidelines"
The J-S story

State Rep. Robin Vos, R-Caledonia, issued a statement Tuesday criticizing the Milwaukee County sales tax:
After months of inner-party strife over how to keep KRM commuter rail afloat, Governor Doyle introduced a plan today to increase the sales tax in Milwaukee County and break apart the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority into smaller pieces to avoid continual battles between factions throughout the three-county region. Rep. Vos (R-Caledonia) says neither the tax hike nor the new structure would be necessary if Democrats would simply focus on transit priorities.

“The Milwaukee bus system is in peril and it needs to be fixed,” said Vos. “But the fight over how to fund it stems from stretching the money too thin for projects like KRM that aren’t financially viable.”

Vos, a staunch advocate for referenda in the case of sales tax increases, says this new hike will be placed on families at a time when they can least afford it. Doyle says the increase has been approved by the voters. Vos disagrees, saying a new referendum should be required because of the current economy and because the previous question was substantially different - stipulating some of the revenue be directed toward park funding and emergency medical services.

“When the families of Milwaukee face record unemployment and have been beaten down by the effects of the current recession, we should not be taxing them more,” explained Vos. “Rather than spending $50 million on new trains, Governor Doyle should have placed a higher priority on Milwaukee transit to avoid this new tax.”

Vos says it’s unfortunate that Doyle is more interested in figuring out how to pay for a new commuter rail system that will probably cost much more than projected, require higher tax subsidies down the road, and likely won’t serve the transit needs of the majority of the region.

“It’s typical government at work,” said Vos. “Ignore the broken program, expand another piece of the program, and then raise taxes to fix the broken part when it gets to a near-emergency situation.”

Vos continued: “Now is not the time to expand our transit system, we need to work to fix what’s broken with existing dollars and greater efficiencies. The tax increases will continue to get bigger as the projects get bigger.”

Postal workers protest to save Downtown post office

Members of American Postal Workers Union Local 778 picketed Tuesday outside of the Downtown Racine post office in hopes of preventing the office from closing. The Racine post office was on a list of 677 facilities around the country scheduled to close. But then the US Postal Service put out a new list of 413 potential closures that did not include Racine. There's still a risk the post office's Downtown building may close, replaced by a service center, which is why the postal workers were out Tuesday. Here's a few more photos from the protest:




Another blow to our self-esteem:
Racine may lose its Cadillac dealership

Not that you were planning to buy a Cadillac anytime soon -- that's probably part of the problem -- but it appears the car marque that at one time meant luxury will be leaving Racine. Out of reach geographically, as well as price-wise, as it were.

The Business Journal of Milwaukee reports this morning that General Motors is dropping the franchises of 70 percent of its Cadillac dealerships: "...And Southeast Wisconsin is no exception, leaving only two area dealerships confirmed as continuing beyond 2010 — Metropolitan in West Allis and Crest in Brookfield."

We tried to confirm this, but the word from the headquarters of Frank Boucher Chevy Cadillac Saab, our Caddy dealership at 8600 Washington Ave., is that "we typically do not comment on matters like this."

BizJournal's story said GM is slimming down from 1,400 Cadillac dealerships nationwide to 400. Dealers that are losing the franchise have until October 2010 to close, but will not receive any new Cadillacs to sell between now and then.

Frank Boucher's local website lists just five new Caddy's for sale right now, ranging from a white 2007 for $38,499 (list: $49,975) to a 2009 STS V6 with Luxury Package and All-Wheel Drive, "internet-priced" at just $49,964 (sticker: $56,910).

But hurry.

Mason introduces Wisconsin Jobs Initiative
funded with tax increase on millionaires

State Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, today unveiled a bill that he says will train and educate thousands of Wisconsin workers. It would be financed by a 1% income tax increase on Wisconsin residents earning $1 million or more, producing $145 million, which would be leveraged by $135 million in federal matching funds.

The measure, called the Wisconsin Jobs Initiative, was presented at the State Capitol in a press conference by Mason and State Reps. Tamara Grigsby, D-Milwaukee, and Kim Hixson, D-Whitewater.

“Everywhere I turn in my district, people ask what can be done to get them back to work," Mason said. "What I am proposing today will train and educate at least 40,000 Wisconsin residents statewide and give employers the skilled workers they need.

“I am proud to stand with Wisconsin’s struggling workers and businesses during these challenging economic times. The Wisconsin Jobs Initiative will enable us to invest in our most valuable resource: our workers. This proposal allows us to stand by the workers who built the Wisconsin economy and help them to transition into 21st century jobs.”

He noted that Congress is poised to pass the American Graduation Initiative which would create matching grants to states that invest in their technical college systems. “With the matching funds from Congress, there is no better time to invest in our workers.”

A press release said the Wisconsin Jobs Initiative would:
1) Provide job skills training and education to thousands of workers through a significant investment in Wisconsin’s technical college system. This investment will also put Wisconsin first-in-line to apply for federal matching dollars made available by President Obama’s American Graduation Initiative. It is estimated that Wisconsin would be eligible to receive at least $135 million in federal matching dollars.

2) Grant financial aid to more than 20,000 waitlisted low-income Wisconsin students statewide so they can get the training and education they deserve from Wisconsin’s UW and technical college campuses, or private and independent colleges and universities;

3) Direct the state Department of Commerce to award competitive grants to businesses to modernize their facilities and equipment, to ensure the retention and creation of 21st Century jobs; and

4) Enhance Wisconsin’s Angel Investment Tax Credit program to support qualified new businesses, to continue to grow Wisconsin’s economy.
Mason will circulate the bill for co-sponsorship and expects a hearing on it this fall.

Lee, Journal Times' parent, back in NYSE compliance

Finally, some good news for Lee Enterprises, parent of the Racine Journal Times.

The company has gotten off the New York Stock Exchange's endangered list. Lee was warned last December that its stock risked de-listing by the stock exchange, for falling afoul of two important requirements: a $1 per share price and a total market capitalization of at least $25 million. Many other companies had fallen below those standards as well, and the NYSE temporarily relaxed its requirements.

But today Lee announced that it is fully back in compliance. The company's stock (LEE), which had fallen to a jaw-dropping low of 24 cents per share in March, is now solidly over $1: it reached a high of $2.40 in August, but the important metric is that it's been over $1 since early in July -- more than the 30-day period required by the NYSE. Today, Lee is at $1.84 per share.

The company's market cap, which at its low hit $12 million, is today at $82 million.

Lee is not out of the woods. As with other print media dealing with the effects of major advertising declines blamed on the internet and the general economic collapse, Lee still has major debt to deal with, stemming from its $1.4 billion purchase of the Pulitzer newspapers in 2005. In February, Lee restructured $306 million of that debt; it now has $502 million due in 2012, on which it is paying about 9% interest.

City to buy eight homes with stimulus money

The blue markers indicate rundown homes the city of Racine is buying with $1.9 million in stimulus money it received from the federal government for "Neighborhood Stabilization." All of the homes are in disrepair and are now unlivable. Seven will be remodeled and sold for less than $75,000. Two will be demolished. Click on the map above for an interactive map showing the addresses, the city's purchase price and which home will be demolished.

The city is set to buy nine homes east of Ohio Street to rehab or demolish.

The Loan Board of Review agreed Tuesday morning to use a portion of the city's $1.9 million in "Neighborhood Stabilization" stimulus money to buy the homes and, hopefully, turn the distressed properties into owner-occupied homes. The city already has accepted offers on all nine properties.

The homes purchases include:

1706 Maple St. - The city bought this home near West Sixth Street for $24,900. It's assessed at $64,000. The city hopes to rehab the home to protect its investment in the West Sixth Street neighborhood in recent years.

1537 Thurston Ave. - This West Racine home was the city's most expensive purchase at $58,000. But it's also the nicest home on the list, according to Jean Wolfgang, of the city development department. Wolfgang coordinated the purchases of all nine homes. The city is buying the three-bedroom house from US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

2026 Orchard St. - The city bought this home just east of Ohio Street for $45,000. Located in a good neighborhood, this home should sell, Wolfgang said.

826 Forest St. - Another HUD foreclosure, Wolfgang described this home as the "tiltin' Hilton" because the inside is such a mess. The city is buying the home for $15,100 - the value of the land - and tearing the house down. (The home was assessed at $80,000, based largely on its exterior appearance, officials said. The interior is unlivable.)

1317 Albert St. - The city bought this home for a $14,900 and plans to spend $30,000 to rehab it. They're buying the home from Wells Fargo bank. (The city gave priority to working with local lenders, including Tri-City Bank and Bank of Elmwood, but didn't have luck with either of them. Deals with Tri-City fell through, and Bank of Elmwood didn't respond to offers.)

1124 Irving Place - This home just east of Washington Avenue off of 11th Street is a big house with a new kitchen. The city bought it for $30,000.

630 Hagerer St. - Located north of High St. just off of N. Main Street, this is a two-family home the city bought for $35,000. HUD had listed the duplex at $64,000. Housing Technician Bill Bielefeldt said this was a home worth investing in. "The neighborhood is on the edge," he said. "We don't want to see this sitting there too long."

1100 MLK Drive - Located near the King Community Center and Julian Thomas Elementary School, Assistant Development Director Joe Heck said this home was "awful 30 years ago. I have nothing good to say about it." The city bought the home for $10,600 and will tear it down. The lot, located near the former Homeward Bound site, will hopefully be used for new construction.

The nine selected properties are part of 14 homes - 10 for rehab and four for demolition - the city plans to buy with the stimulus money, Heck said. Once these purchases are completed, Wolfgang will start work on the next properties.

All of the rehabbed homes will be sold as owner-occupied properties with restrictions on the loan or deed to ensure people don't turn the buildings over to landlords for rentals. The stimulus bill requires the home to sell for the amount of money the city puts into the homes. (Meaning the city can't make money on the sale.) The city capped its commitment to any one property at $75,000.

All of the buildings are abandoned, with most in foreclosure. Federal law prohibits the city from buying occupied homes. It also limits sales to 95 percent of the homes appraised value. (Meaning the city can't buy a home for more than its worth.)

The purchase process began in January when the city applied for the Neighborhood Stabilization stimulus money. The City Council approved the grant in April, and turned over approval of all purchases to the Loan Board of Review, which is made up of city legal, development, building and finance staff. No City Council members sit on the board, which has existed for 30 years.

Alderman Greg Helding attended the Tuesday meeting because he was surprised the council didn't get final approval over the purchases properties. But he also acknowledged the council handed over that approval to the Loan Board of Review in April. "Shame on me for not reading the entire grant application," he said. (Helding added it made sense for the Loan Board of Review to handle the program because the right experts sat on the board.)

Helding also asked that, in the future, the council be given a heads up on the criteria used to select the properties. (Wolfgang began the meeting by laying out a point system she used to score properties reviewed for purchase.) City officials said they will put the scoring system, along with all properties review for purchase, on the Department of Development's website.

September 7, 2009

Lockwood Park playground coming along

The new Lockwood Park playground has its spongy rubber surface poured into place. It's an important step for the playground, which is still waiting for a new parking lot and access road. The playground itself also needs landscaping around its exterior.

That hasn't stopped some kids from testing out the new playground, which got good reviews. The rubberized surface is a unique addition to Racine playgrounds, and once the landscaping is finished it will be the city's only fully accessible playground for people with disabilities.

Here's a few photos from last week:



200 celebrate working men and women at Labor Fest

Rep. Bob Turner, Gene and Jana Gasiorkiewicz, left; Georgia Herrera, right


We didn't make it to Labor Fest today, at Franksville Park, but someone who did sent us this report:
Labor Fest was well attended by more than 200 union members and citizens. The politicians were out in support of the working men and women in Racine County, and there was an antique car show.

The following elected officials spoke: Sen. John Lehman, Reps. Bob Turner, Cory Mason and Peter Barca, and Mayor John Dickert. Other local officials present were Aldermen Q.A. Shakoor, Ray Dehahn, Michael Shields and Jeff Coe. Opposing candidates for Racine County Judge, in the April 2010 election, Eugene Gasiorkiewicz and Georgia Herrera, also spoke. Keynote speaker was David Newby, president of Wisconsin AFL-CIO.

Lenny Hand was inducted as 2009 Labor Person of the Year.

Corey and Rebecca Mason were honored as Mr. and Mrs. Solidarity.

Pat McManaway was the first recipient named as Retiree of the Year.
HERE'S more information about the award winners.