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Sale of city lot for Blues Factory set for next week PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 10 January 2018 18:42

Entertainment complex developer, Port officials ready to seal controversial deal for north slip marina land

    The most contentious issue to split Port Washington in decades — the sale of the city’s north marina slip parking lot for the Blues Factory entertainment complex — is scheduled to be finalized next Thursday, Jan. 18.
    Developer Gertjan van den Broek said Wednesday he is focused on buying the land for the Blues Factory, adding he will meet with shareholders Friday to discuss the implications of a proposed reconstruction of the neighboring shopping center on their plans.
    The implications could include a delayed start of construction for the Blues Factory because of potential changes in design needed to accommodate the shopping center plans, something the Common Council would also need to approve, van den Broek said.

    Shopping center owners Don Voigt and Jim Vollmar recently presented plans to convert the north end of the shopping center into a 10-unit condominium development, but their plans include working with van den Broek to widen the alley between their buildings and add a public plaza there.
    “The consequence is a (construction) deadline the city would have to move,” van den Broek said. “I’m excited Don and Jim have come up with a proposal. My personal objective is to get two good shovels in the ground instead of one.”
    Van den Broek said he is preparing for the sale of the parking lot, and city officials said they are as well.
    At least some of those who opposed the development are resigned to it.
    “I think the water’s over the dam,” Port Ald. John Sigwart, one of two aldermen elected last spring in a race defined by discontent over the proposed Blues Factory development on the lakefront, said.
    “I prefer it not to be there. They (the former council) thought it was the best solution. Maybe it is.
    “Now, I think it’s important that the project is successful. And my position today is that I want to have as much open space as possible for the public.”
    City officials have long touted the benefits of the sale — the addition of $5 million to $6 million addition to the tax rolls, construction of a downtown banquet hall and the traffic the Blues Factory will bring to a downtown that has struggled.
    “This is a tremendous opportunity to bring more people downtown,” City Administrator Mark Grams said, adding they will likely also shop elsewhere in the community. “I cannot fathom downtown businesses not seeing the importance of having a couple hundred people in the city each week.”
    The Common Council paved the way for the sale last week when it approved what officials called a minor housekeeping measure, transferring the right to buy the property from the Blues Factory Inc. to TBF Development LLC — both headed by van den Broek.
    Attorney Bruce MacIlnay, who represents van den Broek, told the Common Council that TBF Development LLC will own the real estate and lease it to The Blues Factory Inc., which will manage the property.
    Ald. Mike Gasper suggested the city add an amendment of its own to ensure van den Broek works with the Voigt and Vollmar.
    “Would this be a good opportunity to put some teeth into that?” he asked.
    City Attorney Eric Eberhardt said that would not be a wise thing to do.
    “In my opinion, that would expose the city to a potential breach of contract,” he said.
    The city has been working with van den Broek, and the owners of the Harbor Center, Don Voigt and Jim Vollmar, to facilitate this changes to the alley, Grams said.
    The city’s 2014 decision to put the north marina slip parking lot up for sale to a developer to spur downtown redevelopment has perhaps been the most controversial action since the Common Council approved building the marina almost 40 years ago.
    Many residents flocked to meetings to appeal to officials not to sell the lot, saying it is most valuable as undeveloped property that provides views and access to the lake.
    But officials pointed to the fact the city has miles of public lakefront land and the need to find a catalyst for development that would draw people to the downtown and year-round in making their decision.
    While the city had hoped to draw numerous proposals for development of the parking lot, it drew only one — the Blues Factory.
    Christopher Long of Madison, a blues aficionado, said the Blues Factory would commemorate an often forgotten piece of Port’s history, the story of the Wisconsin Chair Co. and Paramount Records.
    He proposed a two-story building that would incorporate a museum, restaurant, performance space and banquet hall that would open in 2017 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the record label.
    Officials praised the plan and agreed to sell the parking lot to Long almost 2-1/2 years ago, but negotiations lagged, and in September 2016 Long withdrew from the project.
    Van den Broek then took it over and has shepherded the project to next week’s sale.
    While much of the debate has centered over the use of the parking lot, residents have also questioned the $250,000 price for the property and a $1 million developer’s incentive approved by the city.
    The city has also agreed to spend $85,000 to replace the support system for the seawall in the area to ensure the parking lot is stable since the structure is bowing.
    But perhaps the most lasting impact of the city’s decision to develop the parking lot may be the acrimony it created in the community.
    “It was a big issue during the election,” Sigwart said, noting people didn’t have questions about it when he campaigned but instead had comments — “Why do they believe they have the right to sell public lakefront land? They aren’t listening” were among the most common.

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