October 31, 2009

A night for kids, but adults got the real treat


Spirits roamed the neighborhoods Saturday night, but they were mostly benign. There were a few witches, to be sure, but no fire burn or cauldron bubble.

Edvard Munch's Scream rang the doorbell, but so did Little Bo Peep, a fireman -- even a couple of bananas. There were ninjas, princesses, even Tigger. The kids came on foot, by wagon and baby carriage (the youngest to visit my house was five months old, warmly bundled and half-wearing a gorilla mask). One little girl came by on the back of a bicycle built for two, with her dad.

As in past years, there were no tricks. Just the treat of seeing a lot of adorable kids (and hearing their mothers in the background whispering, "Say, 'Thank you!' ") Most of the kids did, too.

Buddy, a Westie, came as a half-peeled banana

October 30, 2009

$50 million in tax credits for Johnson Development

Johnson Community Development Company of Racine will receive $50 million in New Market Tax Credits from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund.

The tax credits from the Treasury Department's Community Development Financial Institutions Fund will provide financial backing for local businesses and organizations to support low-income community development.

“These tax credits will help provide the backing many local businesses need to get off the ground and establish themselves in low-income communities, leading to a revitalization of these downtrodden areas,” said Sen. Herb Kohl, D-WI, in announcing the grant.

Kohl said the tax credits will provide below market financing to community development projects and facilities, real estate, and businesses in communities and regions hit hard by the recession and job loss, for use in projects like affordable housing for families and seniors, as well as revitalization of blighted neighborhoods.

Lakefront TID extended for 10 years;
$10 million for development (and nobody else)

Lehman, Mason, Turner and Dickert after press conference

The Legislature has approved a 10-year extension of Racine's Tax Increment District #2, encompassing much of the Downtown lakefront, thus making roughly $10 million available over the next decade for future development .

As Rep. Cory Mason put it: "This will create $10 million in resources to develop this part of the city."

That is one way to tell the story. Another might be:

After keeping all incremental tax revenue from the lakefront's development to itself for the 27 years state law allows, the City of Racine has found a way to keep it away from city schools and county government for 10 more years.

But let's focus on the positive first. Racine's mayor and three legislators held a press conference this morning -- grateful that the impending rain held off -- at the foot of Hamilton Street, by the fenced-off plot that once housed Walker Manufacturing, to announce that TID #2, due to expire at the end of this year, can continue for another 10 years.

Mayor John Dickert heaped praise on Reps. Mason and Bob Turner and State Sen. John Lehman, for gaining legislative approval of Senate Bill 132 and Assembly Bill 175, which allow the ten-year TID extension Looking over the desolate site along the lakefront, marked now by concrete foundations of Walker Manufacturing and an old suitcase trunk factory (and now featuring a huge pile of stockpiled city dirt), the mayor looked toward the future:

"As everyone knows in real estate, the country is coming back to water." He said the city is "in conversations -- early stages -- on four potential partnerships in the downtown area. There are a lot of balls in the air." Asked whether any of them specifically involved the lakefront site (that woulda, shoulda, won't be Pointe Blue, the $200 million condo development that failed before it began in 2007), he declined comment.

Mason called the TID's extension "an exciting step forward," and noted, "This is where Racine was founded, at the mouth of the river."

Lehman added, "this is one of the best development sites on the western shore of Lake Michigan."

Turner, who arrived after the press conference had begun, said the move "will go a long way to putting Racine back on track." He took some kidding, as the only person present who was in city government when the TID was created in 1982. Turner was first elected to the City Council in 1976, and to the Legislature in 1990. (He denies being present when Gilbert Knapp founded Racine in 1834.)

Without the TID's extension, said Dickert, "we wouldn't have been able to do anything." Looking past the chain link fence onto the brownfield site -- one of 59 in the city -- he said, "I can almost guarantee you it won't look like this in 10 years."

District 4 Alderman Jim Kaplan is dreaming big dreams for the area he represents. He'd like to see "a huge Marriott or Sheraton Hotel, curving along the lakefront, with a water park, a whole glass wall looking over the lake. The waves crashing, ice everywhere, and you're playing inside in a tropical setting."

Yeah, well, who wouldn't?

Interestingly enough, TID #2 (click map to enlarge) actually paid off its debt two or three years ago, according to Brian O'Connell, City Development director. The money was spent on the underlying infrastructure that supported the lakefront development; until the mid-1980s Racine's lakefront was marked by oil storage tanks and used car dealers, not by a marina and Festival Hall.

Normally, paying off the debt would trigger the end of a Tax Increment District's life, and all tax revenue would then go to all the relevant taxing districts, including RUSD and Racine County. But the city is allowed to use revenue from paid-up TIDs to support "laggard" ones, and so TID #2's million-a-year has been diverted to TID #8, the State Street district. Mayor Dickert noted a few weeks ago that 9 of the city's 14 TIDs are not generating enough revenue to pay back their debts.

So, in actuality, no "new" revenue is being generated by this legislation. Rather, an existing revenue stream will not be lost by the city, forced to share it with other taxing districts. It will continue to be available solely for city projects within TID #2. And some other revenue source will have to be found for TID #8.

O'Connell noted that the fine print in the legislation "allows" this extension of TID #2. The matter still must go before the City Council, City Planning and the Review Board. "But without this legislation, the TID would have sunset, game over. It was a time-sensitive piece."

TID #2 encompasses the area from 6th Street on the south, Lake Avenue on the west, Lake Michigan on the east and Hamilton Street (actually the north edge of the Walker property) on the north.

Stylish Circa Celeste cafe focuses on community

Racine's newest coffee shop is all about recycling, but don't think blue bins and aluminum (though no doubt owners Ben and Dan Lehner are environmentally conscious).

Their recycling concerns the local economy. The Lehners are building their "Circa Celeste" cafe at 619 Wisconsin Ave. around supporting area farmers and businesses. Their hope is to start a movement where local businesses buy from local businesses and keep money circulating in the city.

"If we can capture money and keep it in the city, we can help a lot of people," Ben explained.

The Lehners hope to contribute to the local economy with a European-style cafe that emphasizes healthy, handcrafted food in an open, social environment. The first thing you'll notice walking into Circa Celeste is the gorgeous, inviting interior design.

The Lehners worked with designer Kathryn Bencriscutto to create a 19th Century Parisian feel using vintage elements found at Habitat for Humanity's ReStore and local antique shops. The tone is set by the painted tin ceiling - done by Dan - in metallic pastels.

The menu is a mix of healthy bakery, coffee, teas and a juicer, all at reasonable prices (muffins and cookies are $1) For lunch the cafe offers a homemade soup (it was pumpkin the day we were there), seasonal salads and lunch specials. On weekends they serve pancakes, waffles and crepes.

There's a full coffee bar serving Alterra. A large coffee goes for $2 and a large latte is $3.65. The juices, squeezed fresh on site, have a carrot-apple base with additional flavors, such as blueberries or raspberries. They also offer shots of wheatgrass.

As many products as possible that are sold at Circa Celeste are bought within driving distance of Racine, Ben said. They shop at local farmer's markets and and buy additional produce from Milwaukee's Growing Power. (They're looking for someone locally who grinds flour. If you know someone, stop by the cafe.)

Lehner said economists have shown that money that circulates within a community has a "multiplier" effect that supports several businesses. The alternative is sending money out of a community, which loses the local multiplier effect.

"We're really trying to promote community," Lehner said.

Circa Celeste is located next door to Shilling's Pub in the home of the former "Daily Grind."

The cafe is open Tuesday through Sunday at 8 a.m. It's open until 8 p.m. Tuesday and Wednedsay and until midnight Thursday through Sunday. For performers out there, Thursday night is a Poetry/Open Mike Night at the cafe.

Free wi-fi access is also available.

Here are photos inside Racine's newest cafe:


Ben Lehner serves a customer at Cafe Celeste.

This antique bell is one of many flourishes throughout the cafe.

The backroom

October 29, 2009

What did you bring me from Washington, daddy?

Want to see a copy of the Democratic Party's 1,990-page health care bill, introduced by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the steps of the U.S. Capitol Thursday?

Tough!

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-WI, 1st District, says he'd love to leave a copy of "Pelosi's massive health care overhaul" at each of the First District's libraries. But he can't. The airline on his flight back to Wisconsin "only allowed one carry-on item."

SNAP!

Instead, Ryan will drop off a single copy of the health care bill at the Franklin Public Library today at 11 a.m. His fellow Republican, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, 5th District, will drop one off at the Elm Grove Library on Saturday morning.

Ryan and Sensenbrenner shared a press release to share this tidbit of Republican Congressional humor. Blame the damn airlines.

But if you really want to read the bill -- which we're pretty sure few Republicans have managed to do yet -- it's online here. All 1,990 pages. Who loves ya, Baby?

R.I.P. to Downtown's kids' fountain?

Wipe that smile off your face, kid ... the fountain's closing

Summer's over, but the Laurel Clark Memorial Fountain issue continues to be red hot. Will kids ever again splash in the lovely fountain built in 2001 as part of the Monument Square / Sam Johnson Parkway downtown redevelopment project?

Don't bet on it.

It was almost one year ago (Nov. 12, 2008) when the dumbest idea ever surfaced at City Hall: spend $30,000 to fence off the fountain. Seems the state (dumbest idea No. 2) is now requiring lifeguards, and chlorine -- things the city didn't budget for because they weren't required when the fountain was built.

There are many versions to this story. One is that the fountain never was designed for kids to splash in and enjoy. The opposite version, told to me yesterday by Alderman Greg Helding, is that the design materials shown to the city council before they approved building the fountain (with $150,000 in public donations and $50,000 in city money) clearly showed kids romping through the spray.

And as for the chlorine requirement: Helding said he wondered whether the city simply could pump water from Lake Michigan through the fountain, and then back into the lake. Answer: No way, José. Lake water's not "clean" enough, he was told. But, of course, it's clean enough for kids to swim in it...

It's easy to fault the city for all this, but that would be wrong. The city didn't build the fountain for chlorine or lifeguards because they weren't required at the time, according to Aquatica, the consultant the city hired to look into this in February: "At the time of design and construction, the fountain appears to have been compliant with all codes and standards the State of Wisconsin had in place." It was only in 2005 that state law changed, according to Aquatica's code compliance report issued in May 2009:
One element of the 2005 Comm 90 Water Attraction section dealt with “Interactive Play Attractions” to address play in which water is sprayed onto patrons, but standing water is not part of the activity. This section was created to address “splashpads,” by which in-deck or above ground features spray water onto patrons, but no standing water is provided in which patrons can drown. The 2005 Comm 90 code specifically addresses recirculated water systems, where water from the features is retained, filtered and chemically treated before returning to the spray deck area. During deliberations of the Comm 90 Advisory Code Council in 2003, it was determined that the State of Wisconsin should incorporate American National Standards Institute (ANSI) recommendations for recirculated interactive play attractions into the Water Attraction code section, including a filtration cycle in which the full volume of retained water is filtered and chemically treated within 30 minutes.
Back in November 2008, with Parks and Recreation Director Donnie Snow estimating that it would cost $175,000 to re-fit the fountain to handle chlorine -- not to mention the need to find funding for those lifeguards -- then-Mayor Gary Becker floated the idea of creating new splash fountains (yes, he used the plural) at other locations in the city. Current Mayor John Dickert drank the same Kool-Aid and included $330,000, for one, in the preliminary budget he presented to the council last week.

Neither of those suggestions addresses the issues of lifeguards, and the paying for them, or offers as central a location as we already have, although the city, see below, now says the current location "in a traffic island" is unsafe. And the estimated cost of repairs to the fountain has almost doubled (see below). But that's just me, venting.

In any case, the city administration came up with answers to some of the aldermen's questions last night. Here they are:

Issues concerning closure
of Laurel Clark Memorial Fountain
for use as a splash pad
1.Do we have funds in the budget for operation and maintenance of the splash pad? How much? What is your estimate of the minimal cost of operation?

We do not have any funds specifically allocated for the operations and maintenance of the proposed splash pad as we do not know when it would be fully operational and anticipate the first year to be minimal cost. We would only anticipate shut-down and chemical costs to be incurred. However, we do have funds appropriated in 2010 professional services budget for the LCMF and the proposed splash pad maintenance needs.

2.Why are we closing the fountain for use as a splash pad?

The fountain was built and designed in 2000/2001 according to the State codes and standards at that time. There have been two major revisions since then. The fountain operation now has a litany of WDOC 2009 Comm 90 and WDOHS 2009 DHS 172 deficiencies that would require and estimated investment of at least $247,000 to make needed and necessary repairs caused by the long term effects of the mix of chemical off-gassing that corrodes the fountain pipes, modules and pumps. We also need to relocate the fountain chemicals used to disinfect/ adjust pH to an above ground location to eliminate the chemical off-gassing. The existing and persistent issues of maintenance (current annual maintenance cost of $80,000 not including utilities cost) are much more than anticipated.

Further, to bring the LCMF in compliance as a splash pad would significantly compromise it as a memorial fountain, e.g., the feature rate gpm would have to be reduced which would impact the visual significance of the fountain as the height of feature spray would have to be diminished. The diameter of the center spray feature fitting would have to be reduced as the vertical spray feature exceeds the maximum ½ opening size permitted by Comm 90.

Additionally, if you chose to do all of these repairs, the fact remains that the LCMF would still need a waiver for some of the new codes and is located in a traffic island which presents series safety risks to children that are oblivious to their surrounding conditions. We must ask ourselves is if a traffic island a safe place for such an attraction for our children to play and recreate? In our view it is not.

3. List of LCMF that we are not in compliance with State law, etc.

This year the City of Racine PRCS Department enlisted the services of Aquatica, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, to review the LCMF for state code compliance and estimated probable construction cost involved in repair or replacement of the existing fountain. In a report issued by Aquatica in May, 2009, a number of deficiencies in the existing fountain installation when compared to WDOC 2009 Comm 90 and WDOHS 2009 DHS 172 jurisdictional standards were cited. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

▪ Comm 90.13 deck requirements for slope and deck joint width and depth.
▪ Comm 90.14 circulation system requirements for turnover time, flow meters, filter and pump sizing, and maximum drain grate opening size
▪ Comm 90.16 requirements for cross connection control of make-up water
▪ Comm 90.17 requirements for interlocking of chemical controller with the recirculation pump
▪ Comm 90.19 requirements for toilet and sanitary facilities within 300 feet (paved walking distance)
▪ Comm 90.22 requirements for separation of recirculation and feature pump piping
DHS 172.25 requirements for posted signage of permissible patron load
DHS 172.26 requirements for a telephone with posted emergency numbers at the fountain
DHS 172.27 requirement for a first aid kit at the fountain
DHS 172.29 requirement for posted signage of fountain usage rules
▪ Plumbing code requirements for air break separation of backwash and underground tank overflow discharge to storm systems
WDNR requirements for discharge of chemically treated water into storm systems that immediately discharge into open water

The estimated probable renovation construction cost for the above items, assuming that a Petition for Variance would be granted to allow continued use of existing toilet facilities located beyond 300 feet, would be in excess of $247,000.
Aquatica's report is HERE.

Secret votes, altered records and a $650,000 claim
... just another day at City Hall


City government may have invented a mind-bending new way of conducting business: Time travel.

The city's Loan Board of Review - a committee of city staff that watches over city loans - managed the feat earlier this year when it voted in July, but took action a month earlier, according to city records.

The board's quantum leap involved a low-income apartment building and a controversial loan agreement between the city and Racine developer Jim Spodick.

Reviewing city minutes shows the Loan Board of Review voted unanimously June 18 to "accept a final payoff of the loan on 255 N. Memorial Drive in the amount of $635,000." Spodick owned the building in question - the Wilmanor Apartments - and asked the city to reduce the amount of the payoff loan on the low-income property by $200,000. (More on the significance and back story of the vote below.)

The vote appears to be straight forward until you look at minutes from the board's July 16 meeting. There you see three things:

1. The board took up Spodick's request again (even though it seemingly dealt with it in June).
2. The board voted on the item by email, which is illegal under state open meetings laws. (All government votes have to take place at a public meeting.)
On June 30, via an electronic poll, the Loan Board of Review recommended that no discount on the loan amount be given based on the relative value of the property to the loan, and that there be a $40,000 discount on the loan to $635,000, based on the early payoff.
3. The board actually voted to defer action on Spodick's request in June (meaning it didn't actually vote on the item, as the June minutes suggest.) From the minutes:
Recommendation of the Loan Board on 6-18-09: To defer this item to allow for additional analysis with the option of polling the board for a decision.
So what really happened? Here's the non-altered timeline of events:

June 18 - The Loan Board of Review votes to defer action on Spodick's request until it can get an accounting report on the proposal. It appears to be a procedural move. Board members who attended that meeting included: Finance Director Dave Braun, interim Public Health Administrator Marcia Fernholz, City Development Director Brian O'Connell and Chief Building Inspector Rick Heller. City Attorney Rob Weber, who also sits on the board, was excused from the June meeting.

June 30 - O'Connell secretly "polls" board members by email and they vote to deny Spodick's request to reduce the amount of the loan payoff. It's unclear if the board reviewed the accounting report on Spodick's request. This same day, Spodick is scheduled to close on the sale of the property. He has to put off the sale.

July 7 - The City Council votes unanimously to approve the board's action, even though the board never officially voted to send the item to the council.

July 16 - The Loan Board of Review takes up Spodick's request again, despite it already being approved by the City Council. This time the board votes to affirm its June 30 "electronic poll" and then votes to change history by altering the minutes of the June 18 meeting to suggest the board actually voted then to deny Spodick's request, instead of deferring the request. All five loan board members attended this meeting.

(Interestingly, one thing not reflected in the July 16 meeting is the board's decision to alter its June minutes to reflect a new reality. We only know that occurred because former Alderman Pete Karas attended the meeting and observed the changes to the minutes. Here's another mystery: The city's official online records have two separate sets of minutes for one meeting. One set mentions the "electronic poll". One does not.)

Confused? So are we, because the board's actions don't make sense. It's clearly illegal under state law to vote by email, and it's highly questionable to re-write minutes to reflect actions the board didn't take. The issue gets murkier when the reason for the vote is considered.

Back story

The vote itself centers around a deal Spodick made with the city in 2006 to take over the Wilmanor Apartments at 255 N. Memorial Drive.

The city got involved with the apartments in 1993 when it contributed $675,000 in community development block grant funds to a $3 million rehab project to create low-income apartments. City officials knew it was unlikely they would see the money paid back and gave the money as a one-time, balloon payment loan due 18 years later. (The city likely wouldn't be repaid because two companies that had put in about $2.3 million were ahead of the city to be paid first on any sale of the property, which is valued at less than $1 million.)

Spodick got involved in 2006 when the Wilmanor Apartments were close to becoming the first WHEDA property to get foreclosed on. The building had fallen into disrepair and had few tenants.

Former Mayor Becker called Spodick because Spodick had success in redeveloping homes on West Sixth Street. Spodick agreed to take over the property - and keep it out of foreclosure - if two banks that had lent money for the project agreed to dismiss $2 million in loans on the property. The banks agreed because Spodick would preserve their low-income housing credits, which would have to be paid back to the federal government if the building went into foreclosure.

Spodick and his wife took over the building and rejuvenated the apartments (taking a huge hit in assessed property value in the process. Property taxes on the building jumped from $3,500 a year in 2006 to $28,000 in 2008). After a couple of years, they decided to sell the building to a company that manages low-income properties. As part of the deal, Spodick said he reached an agreement with Becker and O'Connell to knock $200,000 off of the $675,000 balloon payment set in 1993. The deal seemed reasonable because if the building had gone into foreclosure the city would have received none of its money back, Spodick said.

All was going well until Becker got arrested and resigned from office. Spodick said he still had a deal with O'Connell and proceeded with the sale as if he would only have to pay back the city $475,000. Things fell apart as he moved to close the sale.

On the scheduled closing date, June 30 of this year, Spodick learned from his title company that the city only agreed to a $40,000 reduction in the balloon payment. The decision left Spodick in a bind because he was under contract to sell the building. He proceeded with the sale at a personal loss.

Spodick is now trying to understand why the city reneged, and he's not getting much cooperation. Requests for emails and other documents have been delayed or stonewalled. He's now paying $735 to acquire emails - which are public records - to research why, in his opinion, there was an abrupt change in the city's stance on the balloon loan payment.

Spodick filed a $650,000 complaint against the city on Wednesday accusing officials of backing out of the agreement. Spodick said the complaint came from frustration over the city's reluctance to provide public documents.

"I really didn't want to do this, but they wouldn't provide the information," Spodick said.

The city has 120 days to respond to - and likely deny - Spodick's claim. Given the complexity and money involved, it's a safe bet this issue will end up in court.

Wireless Internet along lakefront one of Racine Community Foundation's third quarter grants


The Board of Directors of the Racine Community Foundation recently announced the third quarter grants to area organizations totaling $36,750. They include:

Wisconsin Foundation for Independent Colleges received a grant for the College Readiness 21 (CR21) program. The program prepares low-income, first generation, and minority students for college. Students begin the summer before the eighth grade and spend five years participating in this transformative program. Currently, CR21 serves 86 students, of whom 41 are from Racine County.

A grant was made to Cops ‘N Kids Reading Center, Inc. for after-school reading program and story hour for children. The center provides innovative after school reading programs and story hours with special activities for children in kindergarten through eighth grade. The center also takes the children on numerous field trips to expand their horizons and further spark their imaginations. The services help children succeed with learning to read for pleasure as well as providing them with safe, non-threatening schoolwork assistance. The primary objective is to improve the reading skills of at-risk children, by introducing them to the adventure and creativity that happens when reading for pleasure. The center is intended to assist children in their exploration while guiding them toward reading skills development and applying these acquired skills to other academic and personal pursuits.

A grant was made to the Care Net Family Resource Center to update the organizations technical capabilities. The project is designed to upgrade the systems to network all three centers by establishing their own server.

Education Racine, Inc. received a grant for a project involving installation of wireless (WIFI) equipment along Racine's lakefront, from North Beach to Samuel Meyers Park. Upon completion anyone can connect and spend up to three hours accessing the Internet for free.

The grant was made to The Arc of Racine to support four training workshops for parents of children with disabilities. The organization will provide three two hour programs on various disability issues, held on either a Saturday or a weeknight. They will also provide one full day workshop on autism, held at the Racine Marriott, including lunch and refreshments.

Choral Arts Society received a grant for its 2009 -2010 season, of four concerts to be performed in the City of Racine, Wisconsin.

In other business, Marge Kozina, Executive Director, reported that as of August 31, 2009 the assets of the Racine Community Foundation were $28 million. The Board of Directors approved contributions, memorials new funds established and additions to existing funds and other additions totaling $369,069.59. In addition they approved advised, designated, field of interest, scholarship, organization endowment and unrestricted grants totaling $86,768.00.

The Racine Community Foundation, Inc. is a publicly supported, tax-exempt charitable organization formed in 1975. “The mission of the Racine Community Foundation is to encourage and provide opportunities for charitable giving, to manage and distribute the funds in a responsible manner and to enhance the quality of life for the people of Racine County.”

Information about the Foundation and the grant application procedure are available by contacting the Foundation at 262-632-8474 or it’s Website at www.racinecf.org.

October 28, 2009

First Presbyterian hires director of Christian education

Amy Schall has been hired as First Presbyterian Church's director of Christian education.

Schall was administrator of Small World Montessori School, worked with special education elementary school children, as a middle school cross-country coach and as a leader of Middle School Ministries. She is a member of the Board of the Ophelia Project.

She is a native of Wisconsin who attended Trinity University in Washington, DC; she and her husband, Ryan, have two children.

First Presbyterian Church will host a welcome reception for Amy following worship on Sunday Nov. 1, beginning at 10:30 a.m.

Common Sense: Notable comment on Racine County transit

Many comments on RacinePost.com's articles are quick bursts of emotion that respond to issues and stories on the surface. Others take a deeper look at issues. Common Sense highlights well-written, thoughtful comments on the blogs.

Graham wrote this comment on "County's transit plan is coming together":
If the powers-that-be want to really do something RIGHT for this county, expand the existing bus system to cover the entire county. Make it possible to get from Elmwood Park to Wind Lake, from Burlington to Crest View, from Racine to Waterford, etc., and do it with buses that burn clean LP gas (it’s cheaper than gasoline or diesel and emits almost no fumes as it burns 99% clean). Put the money where it's really needed and service the entire county. Kill the KRM nonsense; a single straight-line train isn't going to cover 1/100TH of the area the buses will and will cost two to three times more to subsidize.

The buses will truly stimulate the county economy. Example: a friend of mine could have had a job out near Hwy. 11 and I-94, but he couldn't get there because the bus goes no further than Wal-Mart. If the entire county had bus access to Racine, it could be a shot in the arm for the city, but all the KRM is going to do is take people out of Racine to spend their money in Milwaukee and Chicago. It isn't going to create any jobs in Racine and nothing is going to build up along noisy railroad tracks.

Also, go to smaller 20 – 30 passenger buses that burn less fuel. There is no need for huge 66 passenger buses to transport only a dozen people. Think of all the new drivers it will put to work, not to mention maintenance personnel. Sell monthly passes that are good county wide for a reasonable price and advertise and encourage the population to use it. Do that and you would have my support for adding a-half-a-cent to the existing sales tax.

Remembering the Imaginarium

Last week's collapse of the Bank of Elmwood brought some attention back to the Imaginarium, the ill-fated children's museum planned for Downtown Racine.

The $4.6 million project planned for the former Zahn's department store fell apart in 2001 after six years of work. Children raised over 2 million pennies for the museum.

Bukacek Construction stopped work on the museum in 2000 after the Imaginarium board ran out of money. But the board countered that Bukacek was paid for more work than it actually did.

The project got further complicated when Tony Gazzana left after leading fundraising efforts for the museum. Gazzana was paid $32,000 after helping to raise $417,000. Bukaceck claimed the museum should have paid for construction before it paid Gazzana.

The project wound up in court, and by 2003, Bank of Elmwood was seeking a new buyer for the building.

We never really got a full explanation of why the Imaginarium, which was so full of promise dating back to 1995, collapsed.

Here's a summary of JT articles on the children's museum that never was:

1995 - Plans announced for a children's museum in the former Zahn's Department store on Monument Square.

1996 - Go-cart races eyed as Imaginarium fundraiser.

1996 - Imaginarium board lays out long-term plan.

1996 - Rally for Imaginarium at Regency Mall.

1997 - Penny drive underway.

1997 - Imaginarium penny drive hits 1 million.

1997 - Bukaceck under contract for museum.

2000 - Renewed fundraising campaign launched.

2000 - Construction put on hold.

2000 - Bukacek remains intent on building Imaginarium.

2000 - Imaginarium works on a new plan.

2000 - YouthALIVE drives Imaginarium.

2001 - Imaginarium board, Bukacek fight over money.

2001 - Museum seeks new developer.

2001 - Gazzana paid $32,000 for Imaginarium work.

2001 - Imaginarium claims Bukacek was overpaid.

2001 - Museum ends up in court.

2003 - Bank of Elmwood seeks new buyer for Zahn's building.

Lehman, legislature tackle SexEd;
When abstinence isn't good enough

Sex education is in the news again, and sure to be as controversial as ever.

At issue is the comprehensiveness of the sex education offered in Wisconsin schools. State Sen. John Lehman is knee deep in the battle, as a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 324, a companion bill to Assembly Bill 458, the Healthy Youth Act. The Assembly version made it out of the Committee on Education this week by an 8-5 vote and now passes to a full Assembly floor vote.

The Senate bill will be the subject of a hearing Thursday at 9:30 a.m. by the Senate Committee on Education, which is chaired by Lehman.

What's the big deal, you ask? Just this: Under state law today, a school may teach abstinence only and be in compliance with sex education statutes.

Yes, we know, abstinence is effective at preventing pregnancy -- 100% effective.. But, as our teen pregnancy rates prove, teens aren't abstaining.

The issue is particularly relevant to Racine, which has the second-highest teen pregnancy rate in Wisconsin and a teen birth rate almost double the national average (along with Green Bay and Kenosha). Here are the startling numbers (click map to enlarge):
42.5/1,000: U.S. teen birth rate
32.4/1,000: Wisconsin teen birth rate
49/1,000: Racine County teen birth rate
94.3/1,000: City of Racine teen birth rate in 2007
Sexually transmitted disease are another issue. Chlamydia is the most commonly reported infectious disease in the U.S., according to the CDC, and females 15 to 19 had the highest chlamydia rate -- 3,005 per 100,000 population in 2007. In Wisconsin, the rate among the general population is 371 cases per 100,000 people; among Racine County teenagers it's 2,782 per 100,000

The Healthy Youth Act bills:
  • Require that school boards that decide to teach sex ed do so in a medically accurate, age appropriate way, addressing elements proven to reduce sexually transmitted infections and unintended teen pregnancies, including providing information about abstinence and contraceptives.
  • Require that school districts that opt to not teach sex ed send a notice home to parents.
  • Require that the state apply for federal funds allocated for teen pregnancy prevention programs.
  • Delete a state law forbidding volunteer health care providers from providing sex ed instruction in areas concerning human sexuality and contraception.
  • Support the current ability of parents to opt children out of sex ed curriculum.
According to the Healthy Youth Alliance, a coalition of nearly 40 health care, education and youth organizations, including Planned Parenthood, aligned in favor of the bills, the new regulation would give students the skills they need "to make responsible decisions about sexual health throughout a student’s life, highlighting abstinence as the most certain way to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and discussing the benefits and risks of birth control and barrier methods to prevent unintended pregnancy and STIs. Programs meeting these criteria are called 'comprehensive sexuality education' curricula by educators."

In other words, if this becomes law, then sex education in our schools will have to include such matters as contraception, and even medically accurate names for body parts. According to a DPI survey, only 61% of state school districts are teaching some form of a comprehensive program. Racine Unified is one of them. (Details added below.)

"The part many are hung up on," says Amanda Harrington of Planned Parentlhood Advocates of Wisconsin, " is that in addition to teaching about abstinence, you have to have a discussion about birth control"

Wisconsin Right to Life opposes the bill. "Wisconsin Right to Life strongly believes that we must speak out in one voice to protect the health of our youth, to reduce the number of pregnancies among our youth and to reduce the number of abortions obtained by our youth by advocating programs that focus on abstinence from sexual activity," their memo to legislators says. "It is the healthiest course for our youth to take and is the only way to insure that sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and abortion will not result.

"Unfortunately, AB458 would require that students be taught about a number of activities that could endanger their health and could result in a growing number of teen sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancies and abortions."

From Unified: In response to our questions about what sex education information is taught when at Unified, we received the following from the middle and high school curriculum summaries (which we've minimally edited):

GRADE 6 Health and Safety: General health units include Decision Making, Family Life, Child Abuse, Personal Growth and Drug Education.

GRADE 7 Physical Education and Health: Health units focus on mental, physical and social health including: Decision making, family life and AIDS, drug education, nutrition and mental health. There are approximately 10-12 lessons at each grade level.

GRADE 8 Physical Education and Health: The Health units assist adolescents in acquiring decision-making skills, enhancing self-esteem, learning responsible behavior and helping set goals for them to realize their potential. STDs and HIV are important units of study in Health at
this grade level.

GRADE 9 One semester of Health is required for all Grade 9 students which meets state law requirements in the area of health education. The student must pass this course. Board policy allows students to be removed from any Health unit to which parents have objections (and file a written objection). This course deals with decision making related to health and wellness concepts along with the development of an awareness and understanding in the content areas of drugs, death, human sexuality, nutrition, weight, fitness, mental health, personal hygiene and communicable and chronic diseases.

GRADE 10, 11, 12 Health Education make-up (for those who didn't pass in Grade 9): See description above.

October 27, 2009

Kringle, from your own kitchen? Ah, elusive...

UPDATED, with recipe! See below.

Original post:

We were so-o-o close!

A RacinePost reader sent us a note today saying that Racine, kringle and O&H Bakery are portrayed favorably in the Dec/Jan issue of Cook's Country magazine. So we immediately hied over to their website, Cook'sCountry.com, entered kringle in their search engine, and Bingo!

Up popped links to recipes for :


And then Cook's Country teased us with the news that "This Wisconsin favorite rivals the best Danish you ever had. Given its three-day prep time, it better. We set out to cut down the cooking time without sacrificing flavor..."

Aha! The Holy Grail of kringle! Considering I just saw some TV cook make New Orleans' beignets out of refrigerator biscuit dough (Total prep involved cutting the biscuits in half and frying them! Yum, said the tasters; I have my doubts.), my mouth started watering. Here might be the perfect way to avoid getting off my butt and driving the half-mile to my nearest O&H Bakery! (I know what you're thinking: Sure, easier for him, but his Saintly Wife is gonna have to actually bake the kringle, no matter how easy the recipe is. What's your point?)

So I clicked one of the links. (Pecan, if you must know, like O&H's at right.) But only disappointment fed my hunger: The actual recipes are restricted to subscribers and members! Ah, but wait, there's an out: The magazine offers a 14-day free membership!

So I filled out the first page of the 14-Day Free Membership Trial: name, address, e-mail address, phone number, height, weight and hair color (just kidding about those last three). And then I got to the second page -- known as the Bait and Switch Page: Choose between a one-year and a two-year subscription, provide your credit card number, blah blah. Of course, you can cancel anytime before the 14 days are up, but, Frankly, M'dear, it's just not worth the hassle to me.

But maybe it is to you? If there's anyone out there who wants to sign up, or track down the actual print magazine and test Cook's Country's home-kitchen kringle recipes, we're available for a blind taste test. Any day of the week ending in the suffix -day.

Meanwhile: Condolences to the O&H family on the death of Dale Olesen, one of the three co-owner brothers.

UPDATE:

Seek, and ye shall find! RacinePost reader Dawn Schubert found a recipe for kringle on FoodNetwork.com -- supplied by none other than O&H Bakery! The comments following it ranged from "A little challenging at first," to "It just doesn't get any better than this."

Try it yourself and let us know how close you came to the original: O&H Kringle Recipe. Recipe makes two kringle, but one of the commenters at FoodNetwork.com said she doubled it and the extras "froze and thawed beautifully." FoodNetwork lets users print recipes on 3x5 cards; click here for the O&H Kringle recipe in that format.

County's transit plan is coming together


About 50 people showed up Tuesday night at the first of three sessions this week at which the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission introduced the first five chapters of its Racine County Transit Plan. About 15 stayed long enough to hear a short present ion by SEWRPC senior planner Sonia Dubielzig and ask a few questions.

The meeting was held in Racine's Metro Transit Center, with buses loading and unloading on one side, and -- perfect timing -- a train passing by on the other. Perfect because it illustrated the mix of commuting choices that local transit proponents desperately want; somewhat less than perfect in that nobody could hear anything but train noises as it passed by.

The beautifully restored railroad waiting room -- it never fails to impress -- was lined with information posters from the transit plan's draft, showing things like current bus routes and their daily usage, the upward arc of bus passengers (until 1981) and the downward arc since then (higher fares, general economic issues), and the direction of almost 500,000 "commuting" trips per day made by Racine County residents -- mostly by car.

The information came from the preliminary draft of the first five chapters, all of which are online in individual .pdf files:
The multi-agency workgroup responsible for the study hopes to evaluate bus and other existing transit systems, identify unmet transit needs and -- most important -- "recommend actions to coordinate existing transportation services or initiate needed new transit services." That their work is cut out for them was illustrated earlier this week, when the Caledonia Village Board voted to cut its already meager $33,000 annual payment to the Belle Urban System in favor of using the money for local parks. How Caledonia residents who depend upon the bus to get to work -- or even to the park -- are supposed to do so in the future is anyone's guess.

Fill in your own blanks. Public comments are encouraged -- either at the meetings, or online.

Another public meeting is scheduled today and next week:
  • Wednesday, Oct. 28, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Burlington Town Hall, 32288 Bushnell Road.

  • Wednesday, Nov. 4, 5 - 7 p.m., Ives Grove Office Complex Auditorium, 14200 Washington Ave., Sturtevant.
Click here for more details and to submit comments online.
Click here to see Racine County 5-Year Transit Plan Newsletter

For more information contact Transit NOW at 262-246-6151.

Walden III named 'exemplary' by state

Walden III Middle School was declared "exemplary" today.

Walden is the only Racine middle school among a list of 83 in the state commended by State Supt. Tony Evers. The schools were named Exemplary Middle Schools based on student academic achievement.

“Middle school is a pivotal time for our students. They need a school environment that nourishes their phenomenal intellectual capacity while supporting their emotional growth and increasing independence,” Evers said. “Recognizing schools that have demonstrated success with students helps build strong academic expectations at the middle level.”

The Exemplary Middle School program, sponsored by the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators (AWSA) and Department of Public Instruction, is in its third year. The program recognizes middle schools with high growth in reading or math scores in the past school year; reading or math scores in the top 10 percent in the past year; or high growth in scores in reading or math for schools with a high poverty population.

Walden III's scores, as reported in the Public Policy Forum's 12th annual comparative analysis of RUSD last week, are surely outstanding. Here are some of its at-or-above proficiency numbers:

6th grade
Reading: 94.5%
Math: 84.5%
7th grade
Reading: 97.1%
Math: 94.1%
8th grade
Reading: 98.6%
Language: 79.7%
Math: 97.1%
Science: 94.2%
Social Studies: 98.6%
Only the REAL Schools 6th - 8th graders came close to those figures; not a single other middle school in Racine scored above 78%, and most had scores in the 40% - 60% range, with a low at 27%.

Walden principal Bob Holzem said Walden (and Gilmore) had earned the exemplary distinction in the past. "We're happy to be noticed and appreciated and contiue to do what we do well. It's a testament to the staff and the kids who want to be here and the parents who support us."

“The Exemplary Middle School recognition program spotlights schools that are doing an exceptional job of preparing our students for the future,” said Jim Lynch, AWSA executive director. “The exemplary middle schools recognized by this award have set and met high standards. We will be looking to these schools for their ‘best practices’ in providing both a rigorous curriculum and the learning culture in which students thrive academically, socially, and emotionally during the middle school years.”

The Exemplary Middle School recognition program reviewed academic achievement records for 306 eligible schools based on grade-level configuration. Of those schools, the 83 receiving certificates are eligible for the 2009-10 Wisconsin Middle School of Excellence Awards, which will be presented at the Middle Level Commission Conference in Appleton on Feb. 18.

The complete list of Exemplary Middle Schools is here.

Revisiting SC Johnson, Uptown and property tax exemptions

Project Honor on the SCJ campus in Racine.

We really don't bash the JT too often, but we can't let a story from Saturday slide. The headline read:

That's a remarkably upbeat take on SC Johnson's Uptown contribution, which will be about half of what it would have been without a sneaky deal between the company, Gov. Jim Doyle and former Mayor Gary Becker. (Click here for our June 1 story that blew the deal wide open. Click here for a summary of additional stories about the deal.)

The JT's story is based on the Oct. 23 Joint Review Board meeting, which we attended, as well. The board met to create a new tax increment district (TID) for Racine's Uptown (known as TID 16). The TID allows the city to borrow money to make improvements and then pay back the loan by collecting any additional property taxes in district for the next 15 years.

To be clear, the TID gets all additional property taxes in the district. Racine Unified, the county, the state, Gateway and even the city itself do not see a penny of the additional property taxes until at least 2024.

Interestingly, the TID is not limited to Uptown. It extends down 14th Street to to the SC Johnson campus, where the company happens to be constructing a roughly $50 million new building known generally as "Project Honor." (Technically, it's two buildings.)

Here's where things get interesting. SCJ and former Mayor Gary Becker swung a deal that dates back to 2007. SCJ didn't want to pay property taxes on its new building - $50 million is a lot of assessed property - and Becker really wanted to get his Uptown arts district going.

The swap went something like this. SCJ found a tax loophole with the state that allowed education centers next to architecturally significant buildings to be exempt from property taxes. Project Honor, located next to the Frank Lloyd Wright Administration Building and Research Tower, qualified.

Gov. Jim Doyle agreed to sign an executive order exempting a portion of the project - known as Fortaleza Hall - from property taxes. The order also includes the Administration Building and Research Tower, which are valued at $4 million.

Becker agreed to the executive order in exchange for the rest of Project Honor - known as the Community Building - being included in an Uptown TID. (Actually, it's unclear if that was Becker's demand or SCJ wanting to control where its property taxes were spent. The latter seems more likely.) SCJ also agreed to kick in $500,000 over five years for Uptown, as well.

The end result: SCJ is saving at least $200,000 a year - possibly twice that much - on property taxes because of the state tax exemption. (We may never know the actual savings because the state is responsible for assessing the building, but simply won't assess the new building because it's tax exempt.)

The rest of the property taxes from the new buildings on their campus are directed into a district located on the company's door step. SCJ will pay between $160,000 and $200,000 per year in taxes to Uptown for the next 15 years.

The money will be used for:

* $400,000 to renovate buildings owned by the city's Redevelopment Authority. That includes remodeling the facade of 1418 Washington Ave. and putting a new roof on 1511 Washington Ave. The city hopes to sell both buildings to artists or small businesses.

* $50,000 for public arts projects, possibly including another mural in Uptown.

* $75,000 for streetscaping

* $750,000 for marketing Uptown, though that number may be adjusted down, depending on need

From what we can tell, there's nothing wrong with the Uptown TID. The district's historic buildings and unique layout is a potential jewel in Racine and using development tools to revive the district is a reasonable and prudent of city money. (As a side note, the city was set to create the new TID earlier this year, but Becker got arrested the district was put off until the new mayor was put into place.)

It's even hard to argue with SCJ's aggressive tax approach. They're a successful corporation that's really good at managing and saving money. That's the reason it's one of the largest private companies in the world, and we're lucky to have them based in Racine.

But it should at least be acknowledged the company quietly (even secretly) worked with the governor and mayor to save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year at the expense of Racine taxpayers. You can argue the company deserved the tax break for all that it does for the city, but there's no question they received a huge tax break that only went public after the fact.

SCJ is contributing to improving Uptown, which is a potentially valuable project for the city. The company, which is handsomely profiting off the arrangement, just shouldn't receive credit for doing so.

The JT, which chased us on the story, but still reported on it themselves, should have known better than the headline they ran.

Negative comments

Behind the scenes we're hearing from a lot of people who are "down" about the negative comments on RacinePost in the past week. Here's a few thoughts in response:

1. Negative commenters are more vocal than positive commenters. Not sure why that is, it just is.

2. Most negative comments center around money, which isn't a surprise because we're all having a tough time financially these days. Money is tight and people are frustrated to hear about tax increases and government spending. Their comments reflect this frustration.

3. We need new perspectives in the comments. Humor seems like the best tonic. If you're willing, jump in.

4. If you're frustrated by the comments, just stop reading them. They're only words!

5. That said, we're grateful to all our readers and their comments. It's a rough time out there and a lot of people are feeling stressed, worried and, well, negative. The only thing I know that helps in that situation is connection and kindness. People feel like they're not being heard ... and they're not! This is one little place where they can shout out loud and at least a few people listen. That's not negative ... it's the start of community.

6. We started a new feature on RacinePost called "Common Sense," which highlights thoughtful, funny and well-written comments. Write a strong comment and maybe we'll pick your words to highlight.

Common Sense: Notable comments from the blogs

Many comments on RacinePost.com's articles are quick bursts of emotion that respond to issues and stories on the surface. Others take a deeper look at issues. Common Sense highlights well-written, thoughtful comments on the blogs.

From "The mayor's 10-year plan":
I understand that some will want to just let the mayor slide on this because they like him personally or they see some progress or even potential.

And then there are the rest of us that actually listened to the man and were inspired by what we thought was his vision and expected him to deliver and will not be satisfied until he does. Key to that vision is the development of something that is actually needed - a long term vision or in his words "a Top 10 City in 10 year plan."

There are no excuses at this point. None. I defy anyone to post on here why it is acceptable for Dickert to campaign on this idea and not deliver. Because Treasures expanded? Because he renamed an area to Riverview? Because he supports regional transit?

All unacceptable as excuses, I'm sorry.

And you cannot develop a plan after the results start coming in. That's beyond insane. My 10 year plan was to create 88 jobs this year. I reached the goal! Yes! Sure glad I announced my benchmark after the game was played!

C'mon mayor....get it done. Yes, we understand it is difficult, but it is needed and you're the one that promised it. Where are the benchmarks? Where are the goals? What is a top city?

The reality is he promised it, found out it was pretty hard to do and then quit - hoping to pass off the budget as a plan and that nobody would notice so he wouldn't have to follow through. We know the game - divert attention away from your failure by pointing to a couple of accomplishments. Case in point - Here's what you might here next out of his mouth:

To Dickert: Can you tell me about the 10 year plan?

Dickert: I think what is important here is that jobs are being created and crime is decreasing. I helped bring 88 jobs to Racine hiring people in Racine that need it the most. 41 gangsters are now off the streets and our citizens are safer for it with the drug busts. That's what I measure myself by and how the city measures success.

Yawn....sounds great, thanks. We've all been had.

October 26, 2009

School Board approves 8.3 percent tax levy increase; 'It's not as bad as we thought'

The Racine Unified School Board voted unanimously Monday night to increase property taxes about 8 percent.

The district's tax levy next school year will be $75.9 million, up from $70.1 million this school year. The district's property tax rate will increase 8.7 percent to $7.85 per $1,000 of assessed property value. This school year's tax rate was $7.22 per $1,000 of assessed value.

Taxes on the average Racine home, worth about $124,700, will increase about $79.

"It's not as bad as we first thought," said Dave Hazen, Unified's finance officer, who presented the budget to the School Board Monday night.

Reductions in state aid led to the increase in local property taxes. The state budget approved this year reduced aid to Racine Unified by about $900,000. Based on previous state budgets, which had never cut school aid, the district had anticipated about a $6.1 million increase.

The Legislature, facing a multi-billion dollar deficit, voted to cut school aids and pass the costs on to local taxpayers. Unified responded at first by estimating a 12 percent increase in its property tax rate next year. The School Board directed staff to maintain the district's revenue cap authority - meaning, basically, raise as much money as allowed under state law - but lower the amount of money the district needs to raise from property taxpayers.

Staff came back with a plan that saved $5 million and used another $1.5 million from the district's fund balance. The district also benefited from some aid dollars that were higher than anticipated and an unexpected increase in student enrollment.

Unified got a surprising vote of confidence earlier this year when the Racine Taxpayers Association, which usually opposes tax increases, supported a 12 percent property tax increase to keep Unified fully funded.

Despite the increase in the district's tax levy, Racine Unified's tax rate remains lower than neighboring school districts. Oak Creek/Franklin's tax rate is the next closest at $7.98 per $1,000 of assessed value. Kenosha Unified's rate is $8.81 per $1,000, Burlington's is $8.70 per $1,000 and Milwaukee's is $9.70 per $1,000.

Stimulus money, savings on refinancing Unified debt and transportation, and other savings allowed the School Board to reduce the tax increase by about 24 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. Initial estimates back in June suggested the district would increase taxes to $8.09 per $1,000 of assessed property value.

Stimulus money also allowed the school district to move forward with its "data warehouse," which will allow parents, teachers and administrators to track student performance. The district is also spending $3.4 million next year to expand Fratt Elementary School and another $3.9 million of school maintenance.

School Board Member Dennis Wiser thanked Hazen and Unified staff for their work on a "horribly convoluted" budget that included cuts in state aid and an influx of federal stimulus money.

"I feel very comfortable voting for this package tonight," Wiser said.

Next year's budget doesn't get any easier, Hazen told the School Board.

Rough estimates already show a $3 million to $4 million deficit, he said. The state has locked in a roughly 2 percent increase in revenue cap space for the district - $200 for students - but expenses may increase by double that, according to Hazen.

Board Member Don Nielsen piled on with worries about the "cliff" coming in two years when stimulus money disappears.

The district's overall budget, including state and federal aids, is about $267 million.

The district's biggest annual expense - 59 percent of its budget next year - is spent on instruction. Buses and utility costs covered about 14 percent of the budget, followed by 11 percent for instruction and pupil support. Administration made up 5 percent of the budget.

The show must go on (RTG edition)

Update, Oct. 30: The cast received a well-deserved standing ovation tonight. Even without the backstory, below, it's a great show. But all the angst leading up to it makes it almost historic. You've got just three opportunities to catch this terrific performance.As I write this late Friday night I have just one bit of advice for you: Don't miss it!

Original post:

If you attended a performance of The Sunshine Boys at the Racine Theatre Guild last weekend, you were probably surprised to see Norm McPhee playing the role of Willie Clark.

The short version of this long and complicated story is that McPhee, right, took on the role when Jerry Rannow suffered a detached retina and had to have eye surgery. Since the show had already opened (Jerry performed the first weekend), it was too late for anyone to step in other than the director, Norm, who was familiar with the script and the right age.

So the RTG was presented with an unusual, challenging and unprecedented situation. Unprecedented in that Jerry Rannow had himself just joined the cast just one week prior to opening night, when the actor originally cast in the role had to withdraw.

McPhee was the Theatre Guild's managing director for 32 years, from 1969 to 2001, having retired to emeritus status. That same year he was named a life member of the Guild, and directs a play or two at the RTG each season. In 2008-2009, he directed The Nerd and The Boys Next Door. He also does some professional acting and voice-overs. During his long career he’s directed well over 300 plays. This season he will also direct Murder at the Howard Johnson's, which runs Jan. 22-Feb. 7.

Show times for the final weekend of Sunshine Boys are: Thursday 7 p.m., Friday 7:30 p.m., Saturday 4 & 7:30 p.m. and Sunday 2 p.m. Tickets are available at 262-633-4218 or at the RTG website.

City rehabs Uptown building; Dickert: Artists are good for Uptown, jobs are better

City officials gave a tour last week of the Uptown building rehabbed by Racine's Redevelopment Authority.

The building at 1526 Washington Ave. was gutted and remodeled into usable space, though it's still lacking bathrooms, plumbing, electrical conduits and heating ducts. The idea was to convert the tattered 4,600-square-foot building into a blank canvas for someone to move into and design how they'd like.

The interior is impressive. The first and second stories feature huge street front windows and wide open spaces.


The building is on the market for $400,000, or $200,000 for the first or second floor. One buyer out of Chicago is interested in the space, though they need to sell their building first, which is no guarantee in the current market. The RDA bought the building in 2007 for $128,000.

The building cost about $604,000 to renovate and the project's total cost was about $800,000.

The city is now preparing to market the property. The hope is still to attract an artist or artists to the building as part of the "Create Uptown" district started by former Mayor Gary Becker.

Mayor John Dickert said Friday he was open to bringing in any type of business to Uptown, adding he was more interested in jobs than artists.

Here's a few more pictures from the tour:

City Development Director Brian O'Connell talks about the building.


Jody Karls looks out the window. He's standing next to John Crimmings, chair of the RDA.


It's all yours for $200,000.