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City council votes to build U.S. Venture headquarters in downtown Appleton

The "bluff site" overlooking the Fox River in downtown Appleton is seen, Dec. 19, 2017. (WLUK/Jerry Van Handel)

APPLETON (WLUK) -- Appleton's City Council has given the green light to major downtown development.

U.S. Venture will build a new, $49.5 million headquarters on the "bluff site" overlooking the Fox River on the south side of downtown.

The location -- which had been home to a church and banquet facility -- was once considered for a new library, but that plan was rejected.

On Tuesday night, 11 city council members voted to approve to build the new U.S. Venture headquarters, with one council member abstaining from the vote.

Trinity Lutheran Church and Michiel's Banquet hall will need to be knocked down to make way for U.S. Venture.

WEDC estimates the project could indirectly generate more than 200 additional jobs in the region.

And, the council is asked to approve a deal for a remodeling of the Irving Zuelke Building, to include new apartments.

“We’re thrilled that U.S. Venture has chosen to locate its headquarters here in downtown Appleton. We have been working on this development for some time and this will be a great addition to our downtown that will spur other developments in the near future,” said Mayor Tim Hanna. “This agreement is a first step that is necessary to be approved prior to a federal tax reform bill expected to be signed into law tomorrow.”

The documents for the U.S. Venture project say “The new office building will consist of multiple floors, above a multi-level underground parking garage.”

The developer, Hoffman, would build the parking garage, expected to cost up to $25 million, but the city would own it, and rent spaces to U.S. Venture. The city would also provide $8 million for the project through TIF funds.

U.S. Venture has been granted $20 million in tax credits from WEDC, according to the documents.

U.S. Venture would guarantee the city annual tax payments of at least $1,157,750.

“This is a minimum valuation guaranty to ensure that the Project Area generates tax increment sufficient to fund the City Investment,” the document states

The city and U.S. Venture had to move fast on this vote Tuesday before federal tax reform is possibly signed Wednesday.

That's because the grants U.S. Venture got from the state could be heavily taxed under the new law.

We spoke with leaders from the city and the company Tuesday after the vote.

U.S. Venture will soon be moving from its facility in Kimberly to a new downtown headquarters on Appleton's bluffs.

President and CEO John Schmidt told FOX 11 News this will bring the local workforce under one roof and allow the company to attract top talent.

"Absolutely. We believe that this building is gonna allow us to be very attractive to the younger workforce," he said.

The thought is that younger workers want to be downtown and have access to amenities the area can provide.

Mayor Tim Hanna told us this will be a great move for the city, making downtown more vibrant.

"That's the kind of business that we wanna work with, that we want here as an anchor in our downtown and knowing that I've described this project as kind of the cork in the bottle and now that cork's been taken out and I think we're gonna see all sorts of things follow," he said.

Hanna told FOX 11 this is just the first development, more will follow.

"It's creating a market, right? It's creating a market that density creates a market for other businesses to feed off of and I think that's what we're gonna see happen," he explained.

And Schmidt told us this will allow U.S. Venture, which markets and distributes oil and natural gas, to create more jobs.

"Today we have about 350 people working in the Appleton area. We're building the building to host up to 780 people. Our goal is to fill that building," he explained.

The city council voted unanimously to pass the project, with one member abstaining.

The city called a special meeting specifically to get the vote done before tax reform is signed in Washington. Schmidt told FOX 11 the grants the company is getting to develop could be taxable under the new law.

"It's just simply a matter of economics that if we have to pay tax on those grants the project is no longer economically feasible," he said.

Now that the first hurdle is over, Schmidt said the design phase is next. He's estimated the design will take about a year, with groundbreaking to come shortly after that.

U.S. Venture had just moved into its new facility in Kimberly in 2010. Schmidt told FOX 11 News the decision to move was tough, but necessary to provide for the growing business.

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