Harbour Lights wins Wisconsin Main Street award for impact on efforts to revitalize heart of the city
Port Washington developer Gertjan van den Broek’s Harbour Lights received the Wisconsin Main Street’s Best New Building award during an April 7 ceremony in Wisconsin Rapids.
The building, which opened last fall, was touted as a means of downtown revitalization by Mark Hogan, secretary and CEO of Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which administers the Main Street program.
Hogan said the corporation acknowledged Renew Port Holdings LLC — van den Broek’s firm — and its “outstanding efforts to revitalize and improve downtown. A vibrant downtown is critical to a community’s overall economic development as well as the quality of life for its residents, and we commend Port Washington for being among the best in the state when it comes to strengthening its downtown.”
The $7.5 million Harbour Lights project at the corner of Franklin and Main streets in downtown Port, which opened last fall, has 14 condominium units and 10,000 square feet of retail space.
Thirteen of the condominiums have been sold — one of the two penthouse units remains. Van den Broek said he has prospective buyers looking at the unit.
Likewise, he has several interested retail tenants looking at the first floor spaces. One interested party has come through the building four times, he said.
His focus, van den Broek said, is on a grocery, restaurant or retailer to complement an existing downtown shop such as Duluth Trading Co. and Zuzu Pedals.
The Wisconsin Main Street award is given to the best building or building addition that exhibits design quality and an appropriate relationship to surrounding architecture.
Harbour Lights replaces the building that once housed Harry’s restaurant as well as the former M&I Bank building, and includes a new structure built between the two. Although the new building is large, the bulk has been broken up not only through design choices, such as an articulated facade, but also in differing materials.
Different colors of brick and windows, as well as the use of siding on the upper floors, help break up the facade.
Van den Broek said he believes one of the reasons Harbour Lights received the state award is that it was the result of a public-private partnership, with the project receiving $1.75 million in incentives from the city’s tax incremental district.
Without that money, van den Broek said, it would not have been possible to include underground parking in the building.
Without that, he added, he had two options — put parking on the first floor of the building or force residents of Port to park on the street and in nearby parking lots.
“Now that (surface) parking is available for the public, residents and visitors,” van den Broek said. “And it created a street-level vibrancy.”
Van den Broek also noted that the retailers he’s looking at for the first floor are those identified in a variety of studies by Main Street and other entities as needed in downtown.
“I’m very deliberate in who I’m going to lease the first floor space to,” he said. “If you look at those studies, they tell you very clearly what’s going to make a difference in downtown.”
While many developers would lease space to virtually anyone who will pay the rent, van den Broek said he has turned away a number of prospective tenants because he has a larger focus.
“You really have to add something to downtown for me to entertain you as a business,” van den Broek said. “I’m not really a developer. I’m a resident of Port Washington whose passionate about downtown. I happen to use real estate as a tool to help downtown.
“This is a prime location. Port Washington is up and coming. It is the most desirable corner in downtown. The building is desirable. The economy is looking up. With all those fundamentals, it’s just a matter of time for the right business to come along.”
Van den Broek also said Harbour Lights fits in with the city’s “brand” as a historical community with a maritime focus.
The building fits in with others downtown and incorporates the former M&I Bank building into its design — something that preserves the history and aesthetics of downtown.
“It was the right thing to do to preserve the identity of downtown,” van den Broek said. “Port Washington is known for being historic, and we paid a lot of attention to making sure the building was designed so that it would fit in.”
Mayor Tom Mlada said the city is proud of the honor Harbour Lights has received.
“We have enjoyed this opportunity to partner with Gertjan on the execution for this vision, and our community is grateful for the very positive long-term impact of this unique downtown lakefront residential development,” he said.
Van den Broek noted that Harbour Lights has helped spark additional initiatives in downtown.
“There’s no stopping change,” he said. “The only thing we can do is decide what that change will look like.”
HOLDING THE AWARD for Wisconsin Main Street Best New Building, Gertjan van den Broek stood last week on Port Washington’s Franklin Street in front of Harbour Lights, the condo and retail store development recently completed by his company, Renew Port Holdings. The east side of the building overlooks the marina (inset). Main Street praised Renew Port Holdings for its “outstanding efforts to revitalize and improve downtown.” Photo above by Sam Arendt. Inset by Bill Schanen IV