Innovation Park, a campus the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee plans to build in Wauwatosa, is a proposal worth bragging about.
The project calls for a graduate-level engineering campus and research efforts that supporters say could lead to new businesses.
So far, UWM has agreed to pay Milwaukee County $13.6 million for land for the project. Wauwatosa, a Milwaukee suburb, has pledged to finance $12 million for improvements to the site, such as roads and utilities. And the federal government has given a $5.4 million federal grant for what would be the project’s first development -- a "business accelerator" that would house university and business research activities.
But who exactly should be bragging about all of this?
Former state Sen. Jim Sullivan, a Wauwatosa Democrat, hasn’t been shy. In the fall of 2010, during his unsuccessful re-election campaign, Sullivan mailed a flier to voters declaring he "led the effort to build a new (UWM) engineering campus in Wauwatosa."
Sullivan is running for Milwaukee County executive in the April 2011 election, which makes his claim about landing a major project in the county all the more relevant.
We wanted to know: What role did he play?
Here is how the Innovation Park project came together:
January 2007: UWM announces it wants to add two campuses, including one at or near the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center and the Milwaukee County Research Park. It would be home to a graduate-level engineering campus and "a collaborative research powerhouse."
May 2009: The County Board agrees to sell 88 acres on the County Grounds in Wauwatosa -- near the medical center and research park -- to an affiliate of the UWM Real Estate Foundation, for $13.6 million. UWM says the Innovation Park project will draw more research funding, with business spinoffs creating jobs throughout southeastern Wisconsin.
December 2010: The foundation says it has raised the $5 million it needs for the down payment on the land. The foundation also says it will ask the county to postpone for two years, until January 2014, the due date for a $5 million installment payment.
Along the way, Wauwatosa approved zoning for the land and agreed to create the $12 million tax incremental finance district to pay for public improvements, such as roads.
We asked Sullivan for support for his claim that he led the Innovation Park effort.
His Senate staff provided seven documents Sullivan wrote, including letters he sent to city, county and state officials.
In an interview with PolitiFact Wisconsin, Sullivan said: "Within the Legislature, I was absolutely the champion for that project. That’s what ‘led’ means."
Sullivan also acknowledged that "it is a group effort to get a major project like that done."
The state Senate, however, had no direct role in Innovation Park. Those who were involved with the effort characterized Sullivan’s role as supportive.
Here is what they said:
- Tom Luljak, UWM vice chancellor for university relations: Sullivan "was a very strong advocate," but "I don’t think there was any one single person who was the champion" of Innovation Park.
- Harold Mester, spokesman for Acting County Executive Lee Holloway: Sullivan supported Innovation Park, but was not involved in the land sale negotiations between UWM and the county.
- Wauwatosa Mayor Jill Didier: Sullivan was a "very well spoken" supporter, but the major players were UWM and county officials, along with the city.
Didier added: "I think, in the world of politics, a lot of people want to take credit. But the reality is it takes a lot of hands to get the job done."
Among those taking credit is Holloway, who is also running for county executive in the April election. He said in December that if not for his efforts, the county would have received only $7 million from UWM for the land, instead of $13.6 million. We rated that claim Barely True.
We won’t do any bragging. We’ll just give you our assessment.
In trying to retain his state Senate seat, Sullivan declared he "led the effort" to put a new UWM campus in Wauwatosa. The major work for Innovation Park, however, was done by UWM, Milwaukee County and the City of Wauwatosa; the state Senate never got involved. Those close to the project said Sullivan played a supportive role but certainly didn’t lead the effort.
We rate his claim False.