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The marina that saved downtown Port PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 20 September 2017 19:19

Yippie! High fives! Uncork the champagne! The Port Washington marina is in the black!
    We are as pleased as the officials quoted in last week’s Ozaukee Press news story about the marina being on track to close the year with a healthy profit.
    But we will curb our enthusiasm enough to observe that this is not astonishing news. By reasonable standards, the marina is always in the black. It is a city service, a public amenity and a presence  buoying the city economy that has functioned for decades without cost to taxpayers. In fact, it has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue for the city.
    Under the operating plan for the marina, the facility is required to make an annual contribution to the city’s general fund described as a “payment in lieu of taxes.” In rare years when the marina falls a bit short of paying the designated amount in full, hand wringing by Common Council members ensues—the marina’s in the red, put it up for bids by private operators, replace the harbormaster, etc., etc.
    The rationale for the payment in lieu of taxes apparently is that if a private development were in business on the space occupied by the marina, the city would collect property taxes. Ergo, the marina should pay a “tax.”
    This ignores the fact that a commercial development on public land at the edge of the harbor would be intolerable.
    This is not to say the marina’s contributions to the city coffer are not welcome. They certainly are, particularly in light of the fact that in recent years the city has been generous in funding lakefront improvements.
    But there are reasons the marina should not be judged by business standards. The small-boat harbor that is an essential element of the marina was built with federal money and the marina was built with the help of state grants. This was federal and state aid awarded to the City of Port Washington to provide a service for the public. It is relevant too that a substantial percentage of marina users are city residents who pay city taxes and pay full price to launch boats at the marina ramps or moor them in marina slips.
    The marina’s pleasing 2017 financial results can be attributed to fine early-summer weather, an improving national economy and a modest increase in rates. Like the water level of Lake Michigan, the finances of the marina have always ebbed and flowed, but over the years it has remained a well-managed, city-operated facility whose performance compares favorably with municipal marinas elsewhere run by private operators.
    The impact of the marina on the community’s economy can be measured not only in the business it generates for local commerce—the shopping, dining and lodging expenditures by visitors attracted by the marina and the fees paid to the boat operators of one the largest charter fishing fleets on the Great Lakes—but also in its influence on downtown investment.
    The brave, visionary aldermen who voted in the late 1970s to build the marina not only gave the city, which was long plagued by a dangerous commercial harbor unfit for recreational boating, a safe harbor of refuge, but launched the renewal of a waterfront blighted by industrial use.
    The original marina improved and claimed the lakefront and its views, water access and maritime ambience for the public. When the brilliantly designed north slip marina addition evolved, this public development that brought the beauty of Lake Michigan into the very heart of the city set Port Washington apart from other lakeshore communities. That unique intimacy with the lake is what drives the private development now surging in the downtown.
    What would the elected officials who made that happen and completed the erasure of the last vestiges of the industrial blight that held the city back for so long think of the Common Council vote in 2016 to sell a part of the marina—the north slip parking lot—for a commercial development that is called a factory (the Blues Factory) and would be housed in a building designed to look like a factory?
    They would be appalled.   

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