Heart Feldt Service: Genesis Turn-Around Begins in Earnest

Mary Feldt feels a sense of urgency, but she's trying not to panic.

Feldt, president and CEO of Park Towne Management, which has been named receiver for the financially troubled Genesis Enterprise Center, kept reminding IB: "This isn't going to be an overnight turn-around." That's true, but there is an important date on the calendar in a few months, one she probably has circled. It is Sept. 1, 2010, the day the GEC's delinquent 2007 property taxes are due.

With all the issues she's inherited — for one, the previous management made little headway in building a required "sinking fund" needed to pay off investors — her initial focus is Sept. 1. "My urgency is the taxes, first," she stated. "The goal now is to start from scratch in January."

That will take considerable scratching because the 68,000-square-foot GEC facility, 313 W. Beltline Highway, has been on a collision course with insolvency. Even though, as the day-to-day manager, Feldt has been able to upgrade the plumbing, make sure the parking lot is clear of snow, and rented space to three new small business tenants, she has no illusions about how difficult it will be to execute a 180-degree turn.

"We're not certain, at this point, where we're going to be," she said, matter-of-factly. "If we start getting more tenants and get income up, we'd be in better shape."

Feldt finds herself in rescue mode by popular request, popular by the public and private institutions that sunk money into Genesis only to see their investments jeopardized by mismanagement. The incubator reported a loss of nearly $235,000 in 2005, and by the end of 2009 was running up a tab of well over $100,000 in delinquent property taxes from the past three years. (Dane County Treasurer David Worzala indicated that if Genesis is delinquent on 2007 taxes as of Sept. 1, the property would be subject to the tax deed process, which is akin to foreclosure.)

A number of legal steps would need to take place before the county takes over the property, especially with several creditors still hoping to recoup their investments.

That gives Feldt and Park Towne more time to save an inspired concept on Madison's near south side. She was appointed receiver earlier this year by Dane County Circuit Court Judge Shelley Gaylord, and she is in perfect alignment with those would like to see the GEC remain a business incubator, a facility that nurtures young and vulnerable start-up businesses.

"It will remain a business incubator, at least for the first year or so," she indicated. "I've been brought in there to try to maintain that."

To do that, she'll to maintain a higher level of rental income. Feldt puts the Genesis occupancy rate at 57%. Feldt said she has wonderful tenants, but some need to catch up on their rent. "I seem to be accepted well," said Feldt, who holds monthly tenant meetings. "We'll wait to see what happens if I have to get hardnosed."

With any luck, her existing tenants will have more company. As a commercial real estate professional, she learned to market properties long ago, and cites GEC's attractive conference room, a training room available to tenants, three break rooms, visibility from the Beltline, and available office spaces ranging in size from 100 square feet to 2,000 square feet. Further improvements are planned for Internet service, but Feldt believes there really isn't anything lacking for the small business office tenants she's trying to land.

Despite the facility's financial troubles, she has little doubts it can fulfill its original mission. "I think it's an ideal situation," she states, "for a start-up business."

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