West Allis - The state wants a crime lab in southeastern Wisconsin to replace its aging Milwaukee Crime Laboratory on the near South Side.

The $75 million project has the attention of West Allis officials who want to bring the lab to a portion of the Wisconsin State Fair Park between Greenfield Avenue and the south turn of the fair's race track.

To do that, they need to convince the Wisconsin State Fair Board to embrace the project.

"It's got to be good for all concerned," said John Stibal West Allis development director. With the concept only two weeks old and a deadline near, development officials are scrambling to present it to fair board members.

Too many buts?

However, Wisconsin State Fair Park Board Chairman John Yingling sees four hurdles that he deems so high that the matter will not be formally brought up before the park board, he said Tuesday.

Although the area West Allis is eyeing for the lab is where the park board had approved a hotel that was never built, a crime lab would have nothing to do with the fair, as opposed to the proposed hotel.

"There must be some type of relevancy to the fair," Yingling said.

Two other hurdles involve parking. While the park board might have been willing to lose parking for a hotel that could benefit the fair, a crime lab is another matter. Parking means revenue for the fair, Yingling said. Also, that area along Greenfield Avenue provides parking for the Expo Center, which operates year-round, he said.

"It could jeopardize revenue for the Expo Center," Yingling said.

Finally, the land in question will not be available soon enough to meet the Oct. 24 deadline for developers to submit proposals, he said.

That is because under a change in the way the state handles disposing of its property, state bodies such as the fair board are to declare surplus property each December, Yingling said. Trying to sell state property that is not declared in December involves a complicated process that in this case would likely mean the fair itself would have to send out its own request for crime lab proposals, Yingling said.

"It wouldn't be workable," he said.

Fair fits well

Stibal said the 150,000 square foot lab and offices seems right for the already-approved hotel spot because the location would be so much in line with what the state wants for its new crime lab. The state wants the building to be on a bus line with regular bus service several times a day. Other requirements include that it have good freeway accessibility, that no buildings be razed and that the site not be a brownfield contaminated site.

The former hotel site fits all of those criteria, Stibal said. A hotel will never go into that spot because another hotel has since gone up across the street, he said.

Stibal said last week that he is aware of the hurdles but had wanted to sit down with Yingling to see if there is a way to make the idea attractive to the fair.

"As we look at this, we think this would be the most ideal location in the corridor," Sibal said, referring to the wide area the state is considering for the building.

Area considered

That area is between Highway 164 in Waukesha County and 68th Street in Milwaukee County and between Hampton and College avenues. That includes parts of Milwaukee, Wauwatosa, Brookfield, Waukesha, Pewaukee, Greenfield, New Berlin, Menomonee Falls, Hales Corners, Greendale, Butler and Elm Grove.

Crime lab proposals can envision a new building or a renovated existing building. Parking for 350 cars also will be needed.

"It would be phenomenal for the city," Stibal said last week. "The problem is how fast can government move? I'm not holding my breath, but I'm optimistic."

Building taxable

One of the reasons it would be good for the city is that the building would be owned by the developer so it would be taxable, he said. The state would lease the building for 20 years. However, the developer also would provide the state an option to purchase the building.

The Southeast Wisconsin Law Enforcement Facility is a plum that the other communities will want as well, Stibal said. They will probably create special taxing areas called TIF districts that reduce development costs, so lease rates to the state can be lower, he said. West Allis would probably have to do the same thing, to be competitive, he said.

It could not be immediately learned if other municipalities are considering placing bids on the project.

West Allis has several developers interested in it.

DNA testing

The crime lab will have such functions as DNA testing, toxicology and controlled substances analysis as well as a trace evidence unit for analyzing such things as glass, paint and fibers.

Although the crime lab will be the major use for the building, other agencies will share the Southeast Wisconsin Law Enforcement Facility.

One of them would be the Division of Criminal Investigation that investigates statewide crimes. Its special agents work with local officials on such crimes as arson, financial crimes, illegal gaming, drug trafficking, government corruption, crimes against children and, if requested, murders and multi-jurisdictional theft or fraud.

It needs space to interview suspects, space to book, process and hold prisoners, and space to store evidence, including potentially hazardous items such as narcotics, flammable liquids, firearms and ammunition.

The state crime scene response team also would work out of the building. The team provides technical assistance in crime scene investigations throughout Wisconsin on a 24-hour basis.

The existing Milwaukee Crime Laboratory, 1578 S. 11th St., was built in 1983-1984 and updated with an addition in 1992-1993. However, the state request for proposals says the approximately 60,648 gross square foot lab has outdated building systems and laboratory conditions that do not meet program needs. It also is over-crowded and doesn't have enough on-site parking, the RFP says.

Department of Justice officials want to combine the Milwaukee crime lab with its other divisions that now operate at two separate locations.

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