Move would pave way for marina district, downtown projects with increased incentives for developers
Port Washington officials are preparing to amend the city’s downtown tax incremental financing district plan to include five additional properties and millions of dollars in development incentives not envisioned when the district was created almost seven years ago.
The proposed amendment, which will be the subject of a public hearing before the Plan Commission on Feb. 16, marks a renewed commitment to the district by city officials who consider it a necessary tool to ensure the downtown remains vital.
It’s also a recognition that many of the projects now under consideration for the downtown and lakefront were not envisioned when the district was created, Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of palanning and development, said.
Among those projects are the Blues Factory entertainment complex and plans by Ansay Development to create a 44-unit luxury apartment building between Pier and Jackson streets just west of Lake Street and a six-story Marina Shores building for a restaurant, store and commercial operations on the NewPort Shores property.
“We really undershot what we would be able to attract in terms of private investment,” Mayor Tom Mlada said. “The incentives in place were not sufficient. Clearly we did not foresee a pretty significant development, for instance, on the NewPort Shores property.
“There has been a pronounced emphasis on redevelopment in downtown over the last four or five years.
The TIF plan amendment calls for adding five properties to the district — the Port Harbor Center strip mall along the north slip, NewPort Shores restaurant and several houses that would be razed for Ansay’s apartment building, Tetzlaff said.
It also updates the district’s costs and revenues, including infrastructure work, remediation of city-owned parking lots in the area, changes to the marina parking lot and increased development incentives.
The city has already exceeded the $750,000 in development incentives originally anticipated when the TIF district was formed, giving $1.75 million in loans to developer Gertjan van den Broek for the Port Harbour Lights retail and residential project downtown and agreeing to $1 million in incentives for van den Broek’s Blues Factory development.
Ansay has said the apartments and Marina Shores developments would require $3.5 million in incentives as well, and Tetzlaff said the city is also including some incentive money for the former grocery store in the Port Harbor Center.
“Nothing’s going to happen there unless there’s some inducement,” Tetzlaff said.
“Very few of these projects would happen without incentives,” he added, noting that land in downtown is more expensive than elsewhere and redevelopment is often pricier as well.
Development incentives are relatively new in Port Washington — Port Harbour Lights was the first project in Port to receive them — but they are a common tool used by communities statewide to spur redevelopment.
In the Village of Grafton, for example, incentives have been used for at least eight redevelopment projects that have increased the value of the downtown by more than $25 million, officials have said.
While incentives are included in the plan, they will only be awarded if the developments they support can repay the loans, officials said.
Tetzlaff noted that the city uses extremely conservative estimates when calculating these numbers to ensure taxpayers won’t be on the hook for development.
A TIF district uses increased property taxes within the area to pay for public improvements that benefit the district. Once those improvements are paid for, the district is dissolved.
The downtown TIF district has paid for a number of public improvements downtown already, including parking lot, alley and street improvements.
When the city’s original TIF district was retired in 2007, it had a surplus of several hundred thousand dollars and much of that money was used for property tax relief.
The city has been considering amendments to the downtown TIF district plan for several years, hiring Trilogy Consultants to help crunch the numbers.
After the public hearing, the plan requires approval by the Common Council and the Joint Review Board, which is made up of representatives of the various taxing districts in the TIF district — the city, Ozaukee County, Port Washington-Saukville School District and Milwaukee Area Technical College — as well as a citizen.
Although the city has talked about amending its downtown TIF plan for several years, it waited until now because it wanted to know what developments were planned, Tetzlaff said.
“We’re just including stuff that’s been proposed or that we know of,” he said.