The following article was written by Mike Thomas and printed in the April 7, 2018 Appleton Post Crescent.
I have attended the last three meetings concerning the alternatives for a mixed-use library in Appleton. The first time the public was informed of the recommended proposal was Feb. 26 during a presentation to the Appleton Finance Committee and Library Board. Public comment was allowed in two subsequent meetings, an overall public hearing and a Finance Committee/Library Board meeting. A vote by the overall Appleton Council happened on April 4.
I have several concerns with this project, the first of which is speed. In my opinion, there is not a sufficient amount of time to effectively analyze the recommendation. In fact, I think the Appleton Common Council needs to take a step back and ask the administration how it came to the decision that the Soldier Square/Bluff Site proposal was the right one.
Unlike the process in 2015, the public and the council did not receive a detailed breakdown on how the proposals were rated on the established criteria. We were only given a final number without the detail. The panel rating the eight proposals consisted of six Appleton department employees and one member of the Library Board. Why were no members of the public on this panel?
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In looking at the limited information on the one page Mixed-Use-Library proposal summary, a couple of major things caught my attention. The recommended proposal will cost $56.6 million and add $66.3 million to the tax base. The lowest rated proposal utilizing the current library site would cost $34 million and add $50 million to the tax base. The return on investment for Proposal #8 seems to be significantly better than the recommended proposal. There may be other factors that influenced their decision, but then again, how would we know without knowing how they rated the proposals?
A second major issue is adequate and convenient parking. Several members of the public voiced their concern about it, and the answer they received was that it's normal for people to walk two to three blocks to the library. Try telling that to the aged population with mobility issues and mothers with small children in winter when it is hard enough for healthy adults to get around downtown. Proposal #8 has both underground parking and the city parking ramp on the east side of the Valley Transit bus station, which makes it easily accessible especially if you have to use public transportation.
The panel interviewed three firms that submitted proposals, but failed to interview the firm that submitted Proposal #8. I would think they would have invited them for further discussion considering the concerns I mentioned above.
When I worked as a chief executive officer in the private sector, I reported to a board of directors. I see the Appleton Common Council as the taxpayer’s board of directors. I hope they get answers to these questions before any final decision is made.
It’s time we slow this train down before we run off the tracks.
Submitted by: Mike Thomas