City teams with business group to run downtown Waukesha events

Published on: 4/14/2014

As City Administrator Ed Henschel pointed out, the dissolution of the downtown Waukesha Business Improvement District (BID) Board last year "created some unintended consequences."

Examples include running events the BID was previously responsible for, including the downtown seasonal farmers market held Saturdays.

With the market's May 3 opening day fast approaching, the Common Council recently approved an agreement between the city's Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department and the Waukesha Downtown Business Association to support community activities. Besides the farmers market, events include the Waukesha JanBoree, the Carl Zach Cycling Classic and the Downtown Planter Program.

"It's a great way to combine responsibilities and cost-sharing with a lot of different organizations," Alderman Steve Johnson said.

Most aldermen agreed, voting in favor of a memorandum of understanding, but Aldermen Aaron Perry and Eric Payne weren't so inclined.

Mistrust about WDBA

"I have some concerns," Payne said. "We're not talking just about the farmers market. We're talking about all the downtown activities. And I think right now I have other questions about the operation of the WDBA and the access we have (to certain information)."

Payne's concerns include how well the city could oversee financial elements of the events run by the private downtown group.

Berg Management General Manager Catherine Huelsman had the same concerns and documented them in lengthy emails to Henschel and Parks Director Ron Grall over the last few weeks.

"I do not trust the WDBA until I see written financials of the farmers market and Freeman Friday Night Live," Huelsman wrote. "I question the use of funds."

Huelsman also maintained that the farmers market was an "asset of the BID and should have been treated as such" after the BID disbanded last year. She accused former Mayor Jeff Scrima of making an arbitrary decision in handing over the responsibilities for the market to the WDBA.

Countering doubters

Henschel responded to Huelsman's claims in a letter to the Common Council.

He said the city has no authority to ask the WDBA for its financial records, and the decision to have the WDBA run the market in 2013 was not arbitrary.

"It was done out of necessity," said Henschel. "The downtown property owners and their representative need to resolve their differences internally," he added.

As the 2013 market was coming to an end, Henschel, Scrima, Alderwoman Kathleen Cummings, Grall, Police Chief Russell Jack and City of Waukesha Clerk-Treasurer Gina Kozlik held a meeting on whether the city should run the market in 2014. They determined the market was not a city function and the city has no stake in who runs it beyond issuing the necessary permits. Having the parks and rec department involved was then brought up to partner with the WDBA.

Three-year agreement

For his part, Perry had a problem with the length of the three-year agreement, saying it's "lopsided."

But Alderwoman Joan Francoeur noted that the agreement will be evaluated annually in December and either party can terminate it at the end of each year.

And while some downtown property owners and merchants have had their fair share of disputes in recent years, Alderman Joe Pieper said the farmers market doesn't have to be another casualty in downtown.