If you thought Northwestern Mutual's benign media statement on Wednesday was their final word on the subject, think again.
"Northwestern Mutual provided funds to support the Drexel Interchange project through an agreement made with the DOT when it initially built a campus in Franklin several years ago. This initiative should not be connected to any other current transit projects under consideration."
A letter from "The Quiet Company's" Vice President of Legislative and Regulatory Relations to Franklin Mayor Tom Taylor, dated April 28th, seems designed to put the fear of God into Franklin's leadership -- and certainly has done so in the case of Alderman Tim Solomon, who reminded those at Wednesday night's meeting that Northwestern Mutual paid $2 million is taxes last year in Franklin.
Northwestern Mutual makes no secret of the fact that they own a significant parcel of land across the street from their Franklin campus -- in Oak Creek -- that would be put into lucrative play by yet another interchange. [PDF link HERE.}
To listen to him proclaim "This needs to happen!", Northwestern Mutual seems to represent to Alderman Solomon more of a threat than a benefit. His exhortations relied on raising fear of losing NML and their tax payments rather than touting a set of ongoing community benefits the city should reinforce.
If NML becomes the "tipping point" for installation of an interchange that sucks quality, sustainable development out of Franklin's interior and onto a ribbon of asphalt in Oak Creek -- picture a cluster of colorful, burger-serving ticks clinging to a recently deceased rodent -- what will that do to their image locally? The photo above tells the story: The perception is that NML is located in Franklin, but doesn't really live here; everything 1,700 employees need is inside their building, and no restaurants or other amenities have seen any benefit in locating around their self-contained campus.
Self-proclaimed "fiscal conservatives" Aldermen Solomon and Steve Olson have called a special meeting of the Franklin council for Saturday at 12:30pm. Saturday is the DOT's deadline for getting a 50% local-share agreement they have deemed necessary for building the interchange. They really want to spend some money, and are willing to skip cartoons to do so.
Here is the text of Northwestern Mutual's letter:
April 28, 2010
Mayor Tom Taylor
City of Franklin
9229 W. Loomis Road
Franklin, Wl 53132
Dear Mayor Taylor:
I am writing to follow-up on the Common Council meeting of Tuesday, April 20th, during which considerable discussion revolved around proposed City of Franklin payments for lighting on 27th St., as well as the possibility of a new interchange at Interstate 94 and Drexel Avenue. As you know, I attended that meeting along with my colleague Catherine Young. We were both impressed by the considerable attention and thought the Council gave to this important topic.
During that discussion, several Council members expressed a desire for a better understanding of Northwestern Mutual's position on and involvement with the Drexel Interchange. Rather than engage in a number of one-on-one conversations and risk having those conversations misconstrued, I thought it would be best to commit to writing Northwestern Mutual's perspective on this issue.
Northwestern Mutual's position on the Drexel Interchange has been clear for some time. As our CEO, Ed Zore, stated in a 2007 letter to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (copy attached), we believe the attributes of the 27th Street Corridor that attracted Northwestern Mutual to Franklin in 2002 have great potential to attract other significant businesses and the highest quality developers to the area as well. These attributes include under-utilized, readily developable parcels of land, close proximity to downtown Milwaukee, easy access to General Mitchell International Airport, and a location in the heart of the corridor from'the Illinois border to Milwaukee from which businesses can draw many employees.
For Franklin's and Oak Creek's shared vision for the corridor to come to fruition, however, the communities need to invest in the necessary infrastructure that will make such development possible. We continue to believe the Drexel Avenue interchange is a critical element of this infrastructure. Based on this conviction, we agreed to redirect a previous 2004 payment of $1.6 million to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to the Drexel Avenue interchange, contingent on the local communities fulfilling the rest of the required local cost share. There were some comments at the Common Council meeting that perhaps a Drexel Avenue exit would speed a decision of Northwestern Mutual to build another building on the Campus. I would like to be clear that there is no such correlation. While our campus could accommodate additional buildings, we have no current plans for additional expansion in Franklin, Milwaukee, or anywhere else for that matter. If and when we have expansion needs, a wide range of business-driven factors will be considered in evaluating a variety of options available to the Company.
Finally, we were somewhat puzzled by comments made by some at the meeting that the Drexel Avenue interchange was located in Oak Creek, and therefore would have limited benefit to the City of Franklin. As you know well, over the past eight years, Northwestern Mutual has invested over $200 million in our Franklin Campus. Nearly 2,000 family-supporting jobs are located there, and in 2009, the Company paid $2 million of property taxes on the campus. 1 can say unequivocally that Northwestern Mutual would not be at its current Franklin location if the Rawson Avenue exit (located in Oak Creek) did not exist. We all owe a debt ofgratitude to the forward thinking leaders and decision-makers from previous decades who decided Rawson Avenue was an appropriate place for the current interchange.
We realize the notion of paying for something in another municipality raises legitimate legal and political questions. Nonetheless, we would encourage you and your colleagues to continue the process of partnering with the City of Oak Creek and doing whatever is within your power to support such critical infrastructure improvements as the Drexel Avenue interchange.
Please feel to contact me if you have any questions or comments.
Steven M. Radke
[Vice President - Legislative and Regulatory Relations]
Alderman Steve Olson
Alderman Tim Solomon
Alderman Kristen Wilhelm
Alderman Steve Taylor
Alderman Doug Schmidt
Alderman Ken Skowronski