Wisconsin Lighting gets longer leaseUncertainty over the future of the city-owned WeTEC building in New Richmond has been cause for concern for the businesses located there.
By: By Jeff Holmquist, New Richmond News
Uncertainty over the future of the city-owned WeTEC building in New Richmond has been cause for concern for the businesses located there.
After the city launched its incubator building in 2010, promising to encourage job growth through tenant relationships with new or emerging businesses, elected officials began to wonder out loud if the concept would ever pan out.
In recent months, City Council members began talking about the possible sale of the 40,000-square-foot industrial structure that’s located downtown. Some said the city shouldn’t be in the property management business.
Then a proposal for a multi-family apartment complex almost spelled the end of the line for the building, as Sand Cos. presented plans to tear down the complex and redevelop the site. That idea eventually was scrapped after neighbors objected.
“It certainly came out of the blue,” Loehr said of the apartment plan. “It looked like the end was eminent.”
After that plan was dropped, city officials were again uncertain about how to proceed. At a city Property Committee meeting in January, council members weren’t sure if New Richmond should retain ownership of the building or entertain proposals from potential buyers.
At that time, Loehr renewed his offer to buy the WeTEC complex for $125,000. Barring that, Loehr requested that the city agree to a longer lease for Wisconsin Lighting so he didn’t have to worry about having the rug pulled out from under him and his business.
At the Property Committee’s Feb. 7 meeting, Loehr again offered to buy the WeTEC building. City officials balked at the proposal and instead offered Loehr a two-year rolling lease. Loehr jumped at the chance.
“It’s a huge relief,” he said in an interview last week. “Nobody wants to wonder about what’s going to happen next. I want to stay here, and this is a good step forward.”
Robert Barbian, the city’s planning and community development director, said the city has decided to stay in the business incubator business for the time being, giving tenants an assurance that they won’t lose their space any time soon.
“The building is going along fairly well,” Barbian said, noting that about half of the available space is now leased by businesses. “We’re not losing any money on it.”
Loehr said he moved his small business to New Richmond in 2010 because of the incubator building concept, and he was led to believe the arrangement was a long-term commitment by the city to encourage job growth.
But it didn’t take long for the tone to change, Loehr said, and it’s placed a cloud of uncertainty over the business and his employees ever since.
“It’s good for them and it’s good for us,” Loehr said of the extended lease. “It removes the uncertainty.”
Had he not received a lease extension, Loehr said he would have been forced to start looking for new space to rent so he wasn’t caught off guard if the city ended up selling or redeveloping the WeTEC site.
Even though the lease arrangement is set, Loehr said he’d still like to purchase the city-owned building to secure a home for his business for many years to come. Wisconsin Lighting has grown to 20 employees in its 11,000-square-foot space, and Loehr expects to need an additional 10,000 square feet in the building before too long.
He said business remains good, and a contract for new lampshades with a major hotel chain will keep the company busy for a long time.
“They traditionally imported products from China, but they don’t want to do that anymore,” Loehr explained. “There are more and more companies looking for domestic sources of products.”
With Internet sales of lampshades and other products rising, and the major contract under its belt, Wisconsin Lighting is ready to put down more permanent roots, Loehr said.
“We didn’t come here to buy a building, but it would make sense for us now to purchase rather than rent,” he said. “We want to be seriously considered as buyers for this building.”
Loehr said he wouldn’t care if the city put the building up for sale and sold to the highest bidder, so long as the building remained a place for small and emerging businesses who need a reasonably-priced place to operate.
If the city sells the WeTEC complex to him, Loehr said he’d be motivated to recruit more industrial businesses to lease space and bring more jobs to New Richmond.
“It should be filled with companies like ours,” he said. “It makes so much sense as an incubator.”
Now that the immediate future of the WeTEC building is settled, Barbian said the city will again be aggressively finding additional tenants for the open space in the complex.
“We’ll start getting the word out again that we have affordable space available,” he said.