Madison's thrift store relaunched this month as an entirely private, public-subsidy-free project. The private developers began demolition of the old Jensen building this week to make way for their downtown dream project.
But the thrift store has already received one significant public subsidy: they got the Jensen property for free from the Lake Area Improvement Corporation.
In a "sale" so fresh it hasn't entered the Lake County property tax database yet, the Madison Community Foundation acquired Lots 3 through 8, Original Plat Block 19, 213 through 219 South Egan Avenue. Here are the property tax records for those lots, still showing LAIC as the owner:
The sale record at the Lake County Courthouse indicates that the actual consideration exchanged for this property was none. LAIC exec Julie Gross confirms that the Madison Community Foundation acquired the old Jensen property for free.
Let's recall the cost at which the LAIC acquired this property. Back in 2008, the LAIC bought the above lots as well as the half-block across the street to the north from Rosebud Manufacturing for $500,000, as part of a deal to subsidize Rosebud's move out to the industrial park on the southeast corner of town. The City of Madison immediately gave LAIC $400,000 for the north part of that purchase, land that the city eventually sold to Inter-Lakes Community Action Program at a 66% loss. The LAIC, meanwhile, sold a piece of the southern half of its purchase for $35,500.
So the Jensen building and parking lot hung around the LAIC's neck at a cost of $64,500. And on March 5, the day the thrift store developers poked their heads out of their burrows and cast the shadow of their delayed thrift store back onto Main Street, the LAIC wrote off that cost and handed that property to the developers for free.
Now is that a public subsidy? It's hard to say. Julie Gross's LAIC predecessor, Dwaine Chapel, told me once that the LAIC is a quasi-public-private entity. It receives some money from private donations, but it also receives significant support from Madison and Lake County taxpayers. But like the meat and vegetables on your plate, those private and public donations all end up in the same pot. The money that bought the downtown property from Rosebud was partially public money. The loss that LAIC took on that land was thus partially a public donation... although the public never got to say anything about it.
Make no mistake: the LAIC really didn't give away much. The property has sat vacant for six years. Some developers have looked at it but decided that the building required more repairs and upgrades to its water pipes and infrastructure than would have been feasible for most business plans. Gross says that when she priced demolition of the building, she received estimates ranging from $80,000 to over $100,000. The location is great, but the building was a liability. The LAIC may be lucky that it didn't have to pay someone to take it.
But on paper, the thrift store has benefited from a giveaway, from a quasi-public purchase six years ago left to crumble until giveaway and demolition was the only viable option remaining.
Anyone care to lay odds on how soon the crumbling Masonic Temple at the other end of Main Street will meet the same fate?