Developer of lakefront project considers increasing size of performance venue, eliminating separate museum
Port Washington developer Gertjan van den Broek said Tuesday he is considering changes to the Blues Factory, an entertainment complex to be built on Port’s north slip marina parking lot.
Those potential changes include increasing the size of the performing space inside the building and eliminating a separate museum dedicated to the history of the Wisconsin Chair Co. and Paramount Records.
The changes are being considered as van den Broek conducts studies to refine the Blues Factory concept and begins the final design work.
A decision on the changes is expected by the end of January
But what won’t change, van den Broek said, is his commitment to the Blues Factory and the telling of the story of Paramount Records.
“The Blues Factory, the Paramount story, is unchanged,” he said. “That’s a key part of Port Washington’s history — a part of the city’s history that so many people don’t know. It changed the world of music.
“It’s an incredible story, and it can only be told in one place in the world — Port Washington, Wisconsin.”
The Blues Factory building is proposed to resemble the Wisconsin Chair Co. factory building that once stood on the north slip marina parking lot. The Chair Co. was the parent company of Paramount Records, which recorded many early blues artists.
The Blues Factory was proposed by Christopher Long of Madison last year after the city made the controversial decision to sell the north slip parking lot on Washington Street — a decision many people oppose, saying the city should not sell publicly owned lakefront land.
After Long stepped away from the project in September, van den Broek — who had been working with Long — took the reins.
Van den Broek said he’s been talking to people with expertise in performance spaces, and they have suggested that the 160-seat performance space be expanded.
“That number (160 seats) will work, but it limits you. The magic number seems to be 300,” van den Broek said, emphasizing that the key is to make it a flexible space that could be made smaller for intimate performances and larger for other events.
The space, he said, could be used much like a community center for events as varied as a table tennis tournament and winter farmers market.
If the performance space gets larger, van den Broek said, it would be logical to expand into what had been envisioned as a separate museum dedicated to the Paramount Records and Wisconsin Chair Co. story.
“There’s no reason that (museum) has to be confined to that corner of the building,” van den Broek said. “Basically the whole building becomes a place to tell the story.”
Van den Broek said he is also talking to consultants about the banquet space and restaurant.
“The restaurant is a key part of the building,” he said, adding the consultant will help him find a restauranteur and design the space.
Van den Broek said he is using this information as he begins work on the final design for the building.
Key to the design work is information he received from the City of Port Washington on the location of deadmen and tiebacks — devices used to keep the seawall in place. His team is looking at the information to see if it is adequate or if additional data is needed, van den Broek said.
Knowing where these deadmen and tiebacks are is key, van den Broek said, so the seawall infrastructure isn’t damaged during construction.
“Without knowing how the seawall is anchored and secured, no one’s going to be able to dig a whole or design a facility there,” he said.
City Administrator Mark Grams said the city is prepared to do additional work to determine the location of the deadmen and tiebacks if needed.
Van den Broek said he is also working to win community support for the project by talking to people who oppose it and trying to find out why and what can be done to resolve the issues.
Van den Broek is expected to buy the north slip parking lot from the city by April 5. Construction is expected to begin by July 1, 2017, with the facility opening in 2018.