Officials say new concerns about integrity of marina wall prompt delay in deal for controversial lakefront complex
The Port Washington Common Council last week unanimously extended the deadline for the sale of the north marina slip parking lot until Feb. 28, 2018.
The almost 11-month extension came on the day that the sale of the lot for the proposed Blues Factory entertainment complex was originally expected to be completed.
The delay was prompted in large part by the discovery that the structural supports for the sheetwall — the tiebacks that hold the wall in place and the deadmen that anchor the tiebacks —are largely nonexistent, City Administrator Mark Grams said.
“It’s something we need to look at and decide what we’re going to do,” he told aldermen.
As part of the agreement with the Blues Factory, the city was required to locate the tiebacks and deadmen, Grams said.
“It hasn’t been an easy process,” he said.
In the last 10 days, he said, the city had finally located the tiebacks, most of which are located on the eastern half of the lot.
“However, the tiebacks we found were not tied into anything,” Grams said.
The city also located three or four tiebacks on the west side of the lot, far fewer than expected, he said.
“This is something we need to look at and decide what we’re going to do,” Grams told aldermen, noting they may need to add more tiebacks. “We don’t know if the sheetwall is buried deep enough to hold it there.”
This is a decision that has to be made whether the city is to sell the parking lot or not, he stressed.
Grams recommended the city hire an engineer to see what needs to be done, a measure the Common Council is expected to consider when it meets Tuesday, April 18.
Ald. Bill Driscoll questioned whether the city needs to add more tiebacks, saying, “If it (the seawall) hasn’t moved in 100 years, it ain’t moving.”
But Grams said Tuesday he believes the city needs to reinforce the wall.
“I’m convinced now. We need to do it, no matter what,” he said. “Knowing what I know, I don’t want to take a risk.
“If you look at the lot, it’s sinking a little bit.”
Grams said officials have received some rough estimates to repair the wall, and they total between $100,000 and $200,000.
“That’s the best guess,” he said. “The problem is nobody’s really studied it. Until you get it engineered, you don’t know what you have to do.”
The situation has delayed the Blues Factory project, Grams said, because developer Gertjan van den Broek can’t move forward with building and foundation plans until he knows where the tiebacks and deadmen will be located.
“He wants to get going on the final design for the building, but he can’t,” Grams said.
While aldermen extended the deadlines for the sale, they stressed that their actions did not decrease any of the safeguards for taxpayers included in a developers agreement approved in November, such as requirements that the Blues Factory repay the $1 million development incentive the city has pledged.
That incentive will come in the form of a city loan from the Wisconsin Trust Fund, the agreement states, with the annual debt payment coming from the increased property taxes generated by the Blues Factory.
“The only things that are changing are the dates,” Driscoll said. “All the protections we have in place remain.”
These protections include a requirement that, if the increased taxes on the property don’t cover the cost of the loan payment, the developer will be required to make up the difference — something that officials have said is expected to occur during the first year or two.
A $1 million promissory note must be provided by the Blues Factory to guarantee this pledge. After the project’s real estate taxes cover the debt service payments for five consecutive years, the note will be cancelled.
The developer must also provide the city with an appraisal that certifies the Blues Factory will be worth at least $4.75 million when completed.
The agreement also specifies that if substantial construction has not started by June 1, 2018, the city may buy the property back for the $250,000 purchase price.