Port State Bank purchases lakefront building

Acquisition of Port Harbor Center gives financial institution additional office space; current tenants will remain in place

PORT HARBOR CENTER, which abuts the marina, was sold Wednesday by longtime owners Jim and Karen Vollmar and Don and Mary Ann Voigt to Port Washington State Bank, whose headquarters is just to the west of the building. The bank plans to use some of the second-floor office space while continuing to lease to current tenants. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
By 
KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Ozaukee Press staff

The Port Harbor Center along Port’s north marina slip was sold Wednesday to Port Washington State Bank, Bank President Steve Schowalter announced.

The bank purchased the 20,000-square-foot building, parking lot and green space from longtime owners Jim and Karen Vollmar and Don and Mary Ann Voigt.

The shopping center is directly east of the bank building and gives the bank an expanded footprint in downtown, Schowalter said — something that may prove vital as the business continues to expand.

The bank has about 70 employees at its downtown Port office, which serves as its headquarters. The bank also has seven branches throughout Ozaukee County.

“This gives us the flexibility to expand as we continue to grow in downtown Port,” Schowalter said. “This is an investment but it’s also a property we can use for the bank’s purposes.”

That’s especially helpful right now, he said, since the bank plans a major renovation of its lobby this year.

To facilitate that work, which is expected to begin by late spring, the bank plans to move some offices to vacant space on the second floor of the shopping center, Schowalter said.

The addition of an elevator is also planned, Schowalter said.

Those are the only changes planned right now, Schowalter said, noting that the 15 office and retail tenants are expected to remain even as the building ownership changes.

“We intend to continue the mixed-use nature of the building well into the future,” he said.

“It’s a nice property. They (the Vollmars and Voigts) took great care in the past 20 years to ensure that this building evolved with and complimented Port Washington’s beautiful downtown and marina district.

“We intend to keep it up.”

That doesn’t mean the bank will never redevelop the property, Schowalter said, although that’s not in the cards right now.

“Nothing’s forever,” he said.

Schowalter, who declined to reveal the purchase price, said Port Washington State Bank has long had an interest in acquiring the shopping center with an eye toward keeping the bank in downtown.

“You need to look ahead,” he said, noting the bank is limited in where it can expand.

The purchase of the Port Harbor Center should ensure the bank doesn’t outgrow downtown, he added.

Negotiations between the bank and the former owners have been ongoing since last summer, Schowalter said.

The sale surprised city officials, who have had a sometimes contentious relationship with the owners.

City Administrator Mark Grams said that the Vollmars and Voigts did a good job renovating the shopping center when they first bought it, opening the building to the lakefront.

“Don and Jim did a good job renovating it. They made it much more aesthetically pleasing,” he said, noting the east side of the building consisted of a wall with a few small windows and doors when they bought it.

“Port Washington State Bank will probably take it to the next level. They’ve done well with all the renovation work they’ve done in the city.”

  The sale of the property is the latest change in the use of the shopping center.

When the Vollmars and Voigts bought the center decades ago, they opened it up to the lakefront, creating a pedestrian walkway and spacious deck for tenants on the east side.

They not only leased much of the shopping center, they also invested in the space with Mrs. Voigt opening Dockside Deli. But they failed to draw a tenant to the long-vacant north-side grocery space, frustrating residents and officials.

In 2017, they announced plans to convert the building into a 10-unit condominium development, a plan that drew praise from the city. But they abruptly shelved those plans in 2018, saying that while they remained committed to a housing development at the site, they wanted to wait until the proposed Blues Factory entertainment complex was built next to the shopping center.

That prompted the city to issue a repair or raze order for the former grocery store, which was torn down and replaced by green space.

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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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