UPDATE: In an eight to six vote, the Racine Common Council voted in favor of deferring the vote on the hotel and event center.
The aldermen that voted against the deferral were: Mollie Jones, Steve Smetana, Sandy Weidner, Henry Perez, Jason Meekma, and Melissa Lemke.
Alderman Dennis Wiser made a motion to defer the vote because Alderman Tracey Larrin was absent due to being ill. Despite Alderman Sandy Weidner calling for the vote, the motion was supported by Alderman Terry McCarthy.
The Common Council passed the 2018 budget the night Mason took office on Nov. 7. Mason can use his veto powers to scrap the funding in the City’s 2018 budget and he has a five days after receiving that budget to offer any vetoes. He filed the veto paperwork Friday morning with the City Clerk.
“Voters — the people who would be paying for this — really hate this idea… a lot,” Mason said.
Mason plans to introduce the veto on Tuesday at the Common Council meeting. He campaigned heavily during a special election in October on being against the arena. The reason: Voters didn’t want it and he doesn’t believe the project is sustainable.
“As a mayor who wants to set a good tone with the voters who just elected me a month ago, it’s really important that I follow through and keep my word on this,” Mason said.
Mason: Project isn’t sustainable
If the project receives final approval, city residents could be on the hook for $7.7 million, or 14 percent, of the proposed $55 million event center. But the project is expected to net about $104 million in new city spending over the course of 30 years.
The hotel and event center project comes with about 300 to 350 construction jobs for about 12 to 18 months, 100 full-time hotel jobs, and 130 to 150 full-time jobs to the event center. Staff also expect $7 million in new spending and 50,000 new visitors annually.
But Mason questions the numbers behind the project.
Touting himself as a proponent of economic development, Mason believes the construction and operations costs are not realistic. He believes the city needs economic development, but the project relies on funds from outside TIF districts and taxpayer money.
“The intention behind it was an aspirational one, but the financing behind it is so tenuous and so variable,” Mason said. “I do not believe we can afford to do it. And I think moving forward with it would be reckless and put other potential development projects at risk.”
Mason sought input from business community
On Thursday, Mason held a Mayor’s Advisory Council meeting to talk with business leaders in the community about their feelings on the project. The opinion of the group varied from some being opposed to the project to others wanting to study the impact of Foxconn building a 32-million square foot mega factory in Mount Pleasant. Still, others want to press forward.
Jessica Smith, assistant sales director for Shorewest Realty, spoke out against the project.
“I don’t know if we can afford it,” she said. “We need something. Yes. Is this a field of dreams building? Kind of in my eyes… I just think it’s not quite done right.”
Jim Cronin, a board member for the Downtown Racine Corporation, said there is no right time for these kinds of projects.
“Kicking the can down the road is the easy decision,” he said. “Pushing the pause button is the easy decision. The hard decision is doing something: whether that is a yes or a no.”
Mason said his decision to veto the funding was reaffirmed by what he heard Thursday.
“If anything, I’m even more convinced of the position I had coming in today,” Mason said.
Common Council has final say on event center
Opinions aside, the Common Council will have the final word on the project. They can, however, override Mason’s veto with a 2/3 majority or 10 votes. Mason called several Common Council members to notify them of his intention and to ask them for their support in pulling the funding.
“I think there are amazing economic development opportunities in the city and I would hate to jeopardize them on a proposal that is neither financially viable or supported by the people who will pay for it,” Mason said.