Public Power, Private Gain: Wisconsin


Wisconsin has refrained from condemning the homes and businesses of its citizens to make way for other private parties. Milwaukee had planned a project in 2001 that would have displaced dozens of local businesses, but the bankruptcy of the beneficiary of the planned condemnations—Kmart—scuttled that plan. Fortunately, this failed condemnation project is the only reported instance in Wisconsin between 1998 and 2002 of taking property for the benefit of another private party. 



Legislative Actions


A bill seeking to place severe limits on private condemnations (including for redevelopment purposes) recently failed to pass the Wisconsin Senate. Assembly Bill 455, which was introduced in July 2001, would have eliminated the condemnation authority of all non-governmental entities in Wisconsin. However, it did not win the necessary support among state lawmakers to become law.713



Private Use Condemnations



In 2001, the City of Milwaukee created a tax-increment-financing district and authorized the Milwaukee Redevelopment Authority to begin eminent domain proceedings to acquire the 15 acres of land needed to build a 156,000-square foot Super Kmart store. Twelve buildings would be demolished and dozens of small local businesses removed to make way for the discount retail giant.714 However, the City put an abrupt hold on all plans to condemn properties for the project when Kmart filed for bankruptcy protection in February 2002. Now it is not certain that the project will ever go forward. Though Kmart insisted it would complete the project, the City refused to take the property until Kmart’s financial picture becomes clear.715 In other words, the purpose of creating the TIF district and condemning the businesses was just to give the property to Kmart. If Kmart won’t use it, there’s no reason to condemn. A few months later, the City officially abandoned any plans to take land for Kmart.716


*These numbers were compiled from news sources. Many cases go unreported, and news reports often do not specify the number of properties against which condemnations were filed or threatened.

†Circuit Court Automation Program, Office of Court Operations. Madison, Wisconsin 2001

713 See A.B. 455, 95th Sess. (Wisc. 2002).

714 Leonard Sykes, Jr., “Super Kmart Developers Hire Activist as Liaison for Project,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 8, 2001, at B5.

715 Tom Daykin, “City Delays Purchase of Land for Kmart; Deal Became Questionable After Bankruptcy Filing,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Feb. 16, 2002, at D1.

716 Tom Daykin, “City Abandons Plans to Buy Land for Kmart,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, May 1, 2002, at D1.