Boat designer floats breakwater art project

Harbor Commission embraces plan to paint concrete panels to create donor-funded attraction

THE WEATHERED VERTICAL wall on the west end of the Port Washington breakwater, seen in the photo above taken on Tuesday, would be beautified under a plan proposed by local yacht designer Bill Prince, who envisions each of the wall panels being painted a shade of blue using a ceramic coating. As seen in the lower photo colored by Prince, the panels would reflect the various colors of the lake on any given day, he said. The project would be paid for with private donations, he said, and would require approval from the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the breakwater. Top photo by Bill Schanen IV
Ozaukee Press staff

A plan by local yacht designer Bill Prince to beautify the Port Washington breakwater by painting the vertical walls on the west end of the structure was embraced by the Harbor Commission Monday night.

Commission members had questions about the proposal and stopped short of endorsing the plan, but encouraged Prince to continue his efforts.

“Good idea —it’s awesome,” commission member Jordy Schwanz said.

“I like it. I would donate to this,” added commission member Bill Driscoll.

Prince, who doctored a photo to illustrate his concept and posted it on Facebook recently, said 10 people have said they’re willing to pay $1,000 each to sponsor one of the 17 wall panels.

The $1,000 would include not just the paint job but a small bronze plaque that would be mounted on the wall to recognize the donor, he said. There may even be enough left over to put toward cosmetic touch-ups in five or 10 years, he said.

“I’m sure we can do this at no cost to the taxpayers,” he told the Harbor Commission.

The large-scale art installation would not only beautify what is today a “bare, ugly concrete wall,” Prince said, it would also create a lakefront attraction that tourists are likely to visit.

“It seems to me those concrete walls are screaming out for a simple, elegant large-scale art installation that would become something that would draw people to the lakefront — especially since so many more people are using the breakwater since it was improved,” he said in an interview.

Prince said he was inspired by images of the Greek coastline, where white cottages contrast with the blue sea.

He would like to have each of the panels of the breakwater painted a shade of blue, from a deep blue to a near white as you head east. 

“The selection of subtle pastel blues and off-whites would ensure that no matter the season or sunlight, one of the large walls would nearly match the hue of the water or the sky,” Prince said. “I think it would be a wonderful, subtle art installation.

“For those of us who enjoy our unique waterfront, it seems like a neat way to reflect nature’s ever changing colors in this man-made structure, to turn something that’s essentially an eyesore into an attraction.”

And, he noted, they would be visible from such city attractions as Possibility Playground and Rotary and Coal Dock parks.

Prince said he envisions the harborside of the breakwater being painted, not the lake side. 

Painting the lake side could create a navigational issue for boaters, he said, adding the force of the waves would be greater there, increasing the potential the paint would erode.

Instead of regular paint, Prince suggested painting the breakwater with Rhino Shield, which is billed as a long-term ceramic coating for commercial and residential buildings.

The coating has a 25-year warranty, Prince said, although he said he didn’t know what the life of the product is projected to be.

Driscoll asked what would happen if the coating started to wear off before the warranty is up but the company had gone defunct, saying it may be fear more expensive then to remove it.

“That’s the only downside I can see because it probably hasn’t been tested on something like this,” he said.

Commission member Dan Laurence asked how easily the Rhino Shield coating can be cleaned, noting the panels may become a magnet for graffiti.

Prince said he wasn’t sure, but noted that the ceramic coating is often used in truck beds so it is likely to be cleaned easily.

Graffiti isn’t a problem on the breakwater  now, Prince added.

“In 11 years, I’ve never seen graffiti on that side of the wall,” he said.

While the Harbor Commission liked the concept, it may not be the city’s blessing Prince needs. Although the city owns the lighthouse and has been paying to stabilize and renovate the breakwater, the structure itself is owned by the federal government and the Army Corps of Engineers.

City Administrator Mark Grams said he is working to see if the Corps of Engineers would allow the breakwater to be painted.

“I can’t imaging they would have an issue with us coating the wall,” Driscoll said.

Commission Chairman Gerald Gruen Jr. added, “I don‘t think they’d care.”

But with questions about the life of the Rhino Shield and its ability to be cleaned, commission members took no action on the painting project.

“I think it would be very cool, but we don’t want to straddle the city with any burden,” Driscoll said.


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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