One of Wisconsin's largest real estate developers wrote to Gov. Scott Walker to express his interest in buying several prominent state office buildings at the same time the Legislature was considering doing away with competitive bidding for such sales, according to newly released records.
Terrence Wall offered his cellphone number in the letter, urging that the "appropriate person" call him to discuss possible deals for properties including the state crime lab, records obtained by The Associated Press show. Wall also offered his support for the change in the bidding process, an idea that originated with Walker.
Wall sent the letter on June 10. The Republican-controlled Legislature agreed 11 days later to allow no-bid sales of state properties over the objection of Democrats, who argued that it opened the door for political cronies to be cut special deals.
A spokesman for the governor said that to his knowledge, no one ever answered the letter from Wall, a GOP donor and one-time U.S. Senate candidate.
"Gov. Walker supports a transparent and competitive process for the sale of state assets," spokesman Tom Evenson said in a written statement.
But one prominent Democrat said Wall's letter shows why the change in law was a problem. Rep. Jon Richards, a member of the budget committee who opposed the provision, said the letter demonstrates concerns he raised about politically connected developers buying property without submitting bids.
"The sharks are already in the water," Richards said. "I'm not surprised at all."
Walker called for legalizing no-bid sales of state properties in the budget he proposed in February. The Republican-controlled Legislature agreed in June, after adding a requirement that any sale negotiated by the governor be approved by the budget committee. The state Building Commission, which Walker chairs and is controlled by Republicans, would also have to approve.
The Wall letter was among documents supplied to the AP in response to an open records request for all communication received by the governor's office related to possible budget vetoes. Wall did not return messages left Wednesday and Thursday seeking comment.
In his statement, Evenson did not address whether Walker would be open to selling the property. But during debate of the budget, the governor's staff said there were no plans to sell any property that provides a public service, such as a campus dorm, a state highway or the prison system.
Republican Sen. Glenn Grothman, a budget committee member, said the intent was to get rid of surplus and unwanted property, not the ones identified by Wall.
"I'd be very surprised if buildings such as these were ever sold by the state of Wisconsin," Grothman said.
But Rep. John Nygren, co-chairman of the Legislature's budget committee, said lawmakers would seriously consider any proposal.
"If he stepped up and made an offer we couldn't refuse, we'd have to take a look," Nygren said of Wall's proposal.
Campaign finance records maintained by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign show that Wall has donated $77,220 since 1993 to mostly Republican candidates, including $8,854 to Walker between 2005 and 2012.
Wall briefly ran for the U.S. Senate in 2010 but dropped out of the race following reports that he owed no state income tax in nine of the previous 10 years and after Republicans overwhelmingly endorsed eventual winner Ron Johnson.
In his letter to the governor, Wall said he supported the sale of public property because "it puts properties back on the table and spurs the creation of new developments offering an additional tax base." He also said many of the properties are surplus and not needed by the state.
Also, he said many state buildings are "functionally obsolete" but could be redeveloped into "new private sector properties creating new jobs."
Wall indicated he was interested in buying the property that houses the Department of Transportation office building in Madison and the nearby state crime lab, which also houses other state offices. Other properties in which he expressed interest include the nearly 150,000-square-foot central services building on the east side of Madison, home to the state's motor vehicle pool, printing and mail services; and the DOA building along the shores of Lake Monona a couple blocks from the Capitol, which Wall said could be leased back to the state after he buys it.
Wall said he would also be interested in other properties but didn't offer specfics.
Wall founded commercial real estate development and property management company T. Wall Properties LLC in 1989. The company owns more than 2.8 million square feet of office space and mixed-use development and has estimated annual revenues of between $5 million and $10 million.
Wall has begun a new venture focused solely on luxury apartment development called T. Wall Enterprises.