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Blues Factory affront invites opposing views PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 12 July 2017 16:34

If the would-be developer of the Blues Factory thought erecting a prominent sign on land owned by the people of Port Washington at the edge of the north slip marina promoting the entertainment complex would increase support for the controversial project, he miscalculated.
    Gertjan van den Broek’s sign is being taken as an in-your-face affront to the many citizens of Port Washington who have expressed their opposition to the development on the principled grounds that it would block public water views and detract from the beauty of the lakefront.
    Energizing the opposition, the sign quickly attracted an anti-Blues Factory placard and printed messages that corrected the false impression left by the developer’s sign that the Blues Factory was a “done deal.”
    City officials learned the identity of the Port Washington resident who stapled the messages to the sign from an Ozaukee Press news story, and on Thursday two police officers made an after-dark visit to her home to deliver a warning against posting comments on the sign.
    By attempting to silence this citizen, the city is crossing a line into the risky territory of interfering with constitutionally protected free speech. If a developer can put up a self-promoting sign on public land, citizens should have the right to post contrary messages.
    It would, in fact, be a public service for someone to place a sign next to van den Broek’s, preferably with the same 8 by 4-foot dimensions, that would supply information missing from the Blues Factory sign, including these points:
    n In a yearslong battle, large numbers of Port Washington residents have expressed their opposition to the development with signatures on petitions, appearances at city government meetings, social media comments, letters to the editor and, in the most explicit display of public contempt for the development so far, by ousting with landslide votes two aldermen who supported the project.
    n City officials’ rationale for the Blues Factory—that it would be a “catalytic” development needed to encourage downtown investment—is not credible. Developers are tripping over one another to build in the marina district and the city is accommodating them. The development surge has only made the proposed Blues Factory site more valuable as an island of public open space on the water in what will be a very densely developed area.
    n The Blues Factory did not appear as a spontaneous reaction to market demand, but was forced on the community by officials hellbent on developing the marina land in a torturous process that is still going on. City efforts to market the land resulted in only one tenuous offer, that from a Madison-area man who conceived the idea of a blues music-themed attraction but abandoned it for lack of financing. The city has been keeping the development on life support in the hope it can persuade local developer van den Broek to resuscitate it.
    n The Blues Factory is far from a fait accompli. In spite of generous developer incentives and taxpayer subsidies, numerous deadlines for the sale of the site have come and gone. After a missed April deadline, van den Broek has been given until early next year to buy the land while the city shores up the harbor wall to support the Blues Factory building at taxpayer expense.
    Another sign on the site could further clarify the issues. The developer’s sign features an idealized rendition of the Blues Factory building from an angle that minimizes its height, overall size and visual impact. A realistic sign would show a front view of the building and its massive facade facing Washington Street.
    In an insult to the ambience of Port’s handsomely designed heart-of-the-city marina, the Blues Factory building is designed to resemble the Wisconsin Chair Co. manufacturing building that occupied the site before it was torn down as a lakefront blight.
    Were it possible, the sign featuring the picture of the brick monolith would be actual size—two stories high and stretching the full width of the site. It would shut off the views admired daily by residents and visitors of the marina and the lake beyond.
    The gigantic billboard would thus be an accurate preview of the aesthetic damage that would be done by the Blues Factory.

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