Exhibition Center Cost to Appleton Taxpayers (Part 4) / by Tom Roessler

Legal Fees: Legal fees for the Exhibition Center which Appleton residents were held accountable for amounted to over $1 million.  $522,000 of that amount was for attorney fees that were incurred as part of a failed effort to secure private-placement bank loans for the project.  Read on to learn more….

Background:  Ben LaFrombois began work as outside legal counsel for Appleton in 2014 to guide the development of the exhibition center. He first was a partner with the law firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson and continued to advise the city after he switched to the law firm of von Briesen & Roper.  In 2018 Mayor Hanna said Ben LaFrombois and the teams at Hinshaw & Culbertson and Von Briesen & Roper have expertise in large projects with complex financing. City attorney Walsh, he said, is "not a specialist in that kind of a transaction”.

What the legal work cost: The legal work was authorized in phases. Appleton paid the two law firms $715,057 for work performed in the first four phases (APC 1-31-18).

A contract was signed for Phase 5 legal work with Ben LaFromBoius of Von Briesen & Roper with a cap of $268,000 (APC 1-31-18).  At the completion of the Phase 5 work invoices were submitted totaling $397,143 of which $129,143 was for work that was out-of-scope.  An agreement was reached to pay the contractual agreed upon amount of $268,000 but the $129,143 amount was disputed (APC 9-2618). Eventually an agreement was reached to pay $80,000 of the disputed amount (APC 3-7-19). On September 24, 2018 the finance committee approved a request to terminate the contract with von Briesen and the City Attorney’s office was to assume any further activity regarding the Exhibition Center (Appleton Common Council meeting minutes).

The total amount of legal fees paid relating to the Exhibition Center came to $1,063,057 of which $522,000 was for attorney fees that were incurred as part of a failed effort to secure private-placement bank loans for the project (APC 3-25-18).

In addition to legal expenses the council also agreed to spend $75,000 to purchase equipment needed by Red Lion Hotel Paper Valley to operate the exhibition center. Another $141,000 in equipment is unfunded at this time.