Mulva Center is a great use of our city land, WOW!

Miriam and James MulvaIt was announced last week that Jim and Miriam Mulva will build a cultural center in downtown De Pere. It’ll be located on the 1.3 acre parcel on the southeast side of the roundabout near the Claude Allouez bridge. It’s planned to be a 2-3 story building, a project of about $7 – $9 million. As we drive through our downtown or come east on the bridge, or even look across the river from the St. Norbert College campus, it’ll be a very prominent sight to see.

I just want to take the opportunity to tell you about some of the business side of this deal. First, you may be aware that the land where the center will be located was previously owned by MAC Dental since about 2008. Through some legal processes, the city obtained ownership of the land because MAC Dental never developed it as planned. So then it was up to us to market the property and find a developer with a project that we felt worthy of such a prominent piece of real estate.

We on the city council were told of the Mulvas’ plan during a closed session meeting last Tuesday, October 20. I won’t provide details of that meeting, but it’s fair to say that I and others were concerned that we will be simply donating the land to the project, instead of selling it. Additionally, it’ll be owned and operated by a non-profit foundation that the Mulvas are creating. So, no property tax dollars as we had expected.

This sounds like a pretty hefty contribution, eh? Yeah, I agree. Free land. No taxes back into the community. This is serious stuff.

But, like my seven colleagues on the city council, I gave my enthusiastic nod to this project. Ultimately, this is not a contribution from the city to the Mulvas. It’s the Mulvas and the city working together to create a unique facility for our residents for many decades to come.

As the project and the Mulvas’ ideas were explained to us point by point, I kept thinking to myself, “wow!” But I then started to wonder, with such an expensive facility attracting very high profile exhibits, how will the common citizen and school children be able to afford visiting the place? Then we were told that they will not be charging admission. I’m sure there will be plenty of opportunity to donate, but with no admission fees, my thoughts immediately went to, “let’s do it.” Note that this wasn’t necessarily a deal breaker for me; it was just icing on the cake that proved the worthiness of this project.

The Mulvas’ generosity and commitment to De Pere are overwhelming. We are so fortunate to be able to call them neighbors. Since their retirement, they have chosen to entrench themselves back into our little city on the river. They’ve made naming donations to St. Norbert College for the Miriam B. and James J. Mulva Library, and for the recently completed Gehl-Mulva Science Center (also home to the Medical College of Wisconsin). They made a major donation to the De Pere Riverwalk and Wildlife Viewing Pier project. And they’ve now built a retirement home here. And it all started decades ago when they met at the Legion Park pool on the city’s east side.

Specific plans for the project aren’t yet known, but should start to unfold by spring with an opening perhaps in 2017. I’m so excited about this, and I’m more excited about the benefit to the residents of De Pere, especially our children and grandchildren, long after we’ll all be gone.

(For more on the Mulvas, see this interview from 2009.)