Leases drafted for Blackhawk Junction tenants as development talks continue

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County board learns $64M spent in local tourism in 2018

By Correne Martin

Four public property leases will be extended to the current tenants at Blackhawk Junction Mall in Prairie du Chien for consideration, according to Crawford County Board corporation counsel Mark Peterson. The attorney updated the supervisors at their regular meeting Tuesday morning, June 18, about the foreclosure site. 

“After talking with the public property department, I drafted four property leases, month-to-month, with a 90-day notice required for eviction. Rent is based on $.55 per square foot. They were sent out last Thursday and Friday,” Peterson informed the board. 

“The building has four healthy business tenants,” he added, referring to Suppz Gym, Mississippi Meats, H&R Block and Associated Bank. “But we’re foreclosing on the whole, near 9-acre space.”

The county hopes to complete these leases, Peterson said, while simultaneously cooperating with the city of Prairie du Chien toward development of the property, of which the county took ownership due to foreclosure because of $488,988 in unpaid back taxes. The board is hopeful the four businesses will become continuing renters from the county. 

County Treasurer Deanne Lutz mentioned to the board that the city is interested in creating a TIF at that location but is working out details of how that can be done before it acts upon purchasing the site from the county. “They don’t know if they can make a TIF if they are the legal owners,” she stated.

Supervisor Greg Russell reminded the board that the county only wants to get paid for the property’s back taxes.

Another meeting among the city, county and their advisers is anticipated in about four to six weeks. The city initially requested the county allow up to six months for the strategic development process. 

Foreclosure fees amended

Amendments were made to the fee schedule for foreclosed tax lien proceedings, as laid out by County Treasurer Deanne Lutz. 

“These are just some of the things we never thought about when we first created the ordinance,” she said, noting that concerns came up following the most recent set of properties that went through the county foreclosure process this spring.

First, the county ordinance was amended to state that there’s a 10 percent redemption fee, or a minimum of $100, whichever is greater.

Second, after a default judgement is filed in court and the county owns a property, the question was raised: Should the county allow people to buy it back? Lutz said she checked with other counties on their ordinances before recommending it would be OK to allow someone to buy a property back before a foreclosure sale is advertised, but at a 1 percent fee of the assessed value. This would be to cover costs and county’s time.

Third, once a potential foreclosure property is turned over for advertising to the public and realtor showings, the property owner no longer has the right to come back and obtain it. In that case, he or she would only get it back by bidding among others at public auction. 

Tourism’s economic impact

Four local and state tourism officials presented to the county board about the economic impact of tourism in Crawford County and Wisconsin. Speakers included Sherry Quamme, Crawford County representative to the Wisconsin Mississippi River Parkway Commission; Drew Nussbaum, regional tourism specialist with the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, Bob Moses, CEO of the Prairie du Chien Area Chamber of Commerce; and Dale Klemme, representing the Crawford County Tourism Council.

A key note made at the meeting was that Crawford County was down 2.12 percent in direct visitor spending in 2018, compared to 2017, according to Quamme. This decrease is attributed to weather, construction in Prairie du Chien and the fact that 2018 was the first year without the Country on the River event. 

“When you see a dip in lodging, you see a dip in dining, and along with that, you see a dip in employment,” Nussbaum said. “But, don’t be too concerned.”

When tourism leaders saw this slip in revenue, they started talking, not just about what happened, but more about what can be done to position Crawford County for success in 2019 and beyond.

“It may be that much of our tourism is relying on the Mississippi River and we’ve put too many of our eggs in one basket,” Klemme considered. “We have started to diversify.”

Nussbaum added, “Research says if we promote what we have, tourists will come here and not be attracted to another state.”

In 2018, there was $42.7 million in direct tourism-related spending in Crawford County, he said. Add to that indirect spending (i.e. vehicle repairs, visit to farmers market while here) and induced spending (employees at tourism-connected businesses), and the total jumps to $64 million expended in the county. Nussbaum also shared that 668 jobs in Crawford County are sustained by the tourism industry, which results in $12.1 million in personal income for the owners and employees of those establishments.

The county board contributes financially toward annual marketing and advertising efforts. All four officials thanked the board for that. 

Moses provided evidence that those dollars are helping. He said, as advertising budgets have increased, especially in strategic markets, return on investment has also seen a boost. In 2015, the city of Prairie du Chien collected over $300,000 in room tax revenues, he reported. And, the cycle continues, since those are the dollars that are re-spent on promoting the city and county. 

Moses also told the board about the chamber’s new website, prairieduchien.org, which is more video-focused than the previous one. The additional hire of a part-time social media coordinator, Dan Moris, in January, has also increased visibility for the city online.

HR specialist hire

The county has selected Cheri Leachman to be hired as its new human resources specialist. The position provides 20 hours per week, with the potential to become full-time in 2020. Leachman is currently the executive director at the Strawberry Point Lutheran Home Community in Iowa. 

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