Kohler Village Board approves pre-development agreement with Aurora Health Care

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The Kohler Village Board took the first step at its October 16th meeting in a lengthy review process for the proposed medical facility Aurora Health Care plans to build on a parcel of land within Village of Kohler limits.

The board unanimously voted to approve a pre-development agreement between Milwaukee-based Aurora Health Care, Inc. and the Village of Kohler. The agreement commits the health care provider to paying for extra expenses the Village might incur as a result of the project, including time spent on the project by the Village’s Department of Public Works, outside legal counsel, and any litigation that may arise.

Michael Bauer, the Village’s attorney, said the agreement was necessary given the scope of the project, which will cost an estimated $324 million. The agreement mainly protects the Village from being named as one of the defendants in any potential lawsuits filed against the project, according to Village Board President Tom Schnettler. With the agreement, Aurora would assume all litigation costs. Schnettler said he received at least one phone call in the spring threatening action against the project if any trees were removed. (Due to the rolling terrain and deep ravines on the parcel, it’s unlikely all the land will be developed).

Aurora initially announced in February, 2015 that it planned to build an $86.4 million outpatient surgery center and medical office building on the land that currently houses the Field of Dreams athletic fields in the City of Sheboygan. The field is owned by the Sheboygan Area School District, and the proposal was estimated to bring the district a more-than $6 million windfall. Several neighbors living around the field aggressively pushed back, however, at one point suing the district over an alleged violation of open meetings law.

Two years later, Aurora still had its eyes on the Field of Dreams location with a February, 2017 offer of $2.5 million to buy the parcel, and an additional $2.33 million toward building new athletic facilities around the city, or refurbishing existing ones. Board members for the Sheboygan School District were just a few hours away from acting on an administrative recommendation to approve selling the Field of Dreams at their March 14, 2017 meeting, when they were stunned by an abrupt announcement from Aurora that it was backing out of the offer, or at least delaying it.

With rumors swirling that the health care provider was eyeing other parcels in the City of Sheboygan, Aurora announced in April, 2017 that it had signed a letter of intent to enter a lease agreement with Kohler Co. to build a replacement hospital, new outpatient surgery center, and medical office building on a 56-acre parcel of land owned by Kohler Co. that is within Village of Kohler limits. The parcel, which abuts the City of Sheboygan immediately east of Interstate 43 between the Acuity building and the University of Wisconsin-Sheboygan campus, is designated partially for commercial use, and partially for corporate office and/or headquarters usage on the Village’s Future Land Use Plan.

With the announcement of Aurora’s new plans, the small resort village of a little over 2,000 suddenly found itself thrust into the middle of plans for construction of a major medical facility, prompting it to create the pre-development agreement as its first step. Any future need for infrastructure changes on the property will require the Village to enter a regular development agreement with Aurora before authorizing any final approvals.

As a goodwill gesture toward the City of Sheboygan, Aurora offered a $500,000 donation to the city in support of its youth sports fields. Aurora expects to open its new Kohler facility in 2021.

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