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To the victors go the responsibilities PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 24 January 2018 17:47

They own it.
    A developer and city officials now own the Blues Factory. We are not referring to the building or the business. We mean the Blues Factory Problem. As of last Thursday, they own that problem lock, stock and barrel.
    The City of Port Washington sold land on Thursday, Jan. 18 to Gertjan van den Broek as the site for the entertainment attraction. That is a problem because elected city representatives and the developer made this deal—taking undeveloped public lakefront land for a lake-view-blocking building housing an entertainment business—against the wishes of a broad section of the citizenry.
    A poll presented on the Ozaukee Press Facebook page on Jan. 16 gave an insight into the depth of that opposition. More than 78% of the people who responded indicated they opposed the sale of the land for the Blues Factory. Of the total of 1,069 responses, 839 disapproved of the development; 230 supported it. Scientific sampling was not involved in the poll, but results were tallied by Facebook and only responses from registered, identified Facebook users could be counted.
    Van den Broek and diehard backers in the city government won the battle. Now they own the responsibility to avoid what opponents of the project fear—that it will be brick and mortar mistake that will haunt the city for decades in its prominent place at the water’s edge.
    To that end, the developer’s first move should be back to the drawing board. Cities across the country have figured out that when they are blessed with land overlooking the water and allow it to be developed, the design of what is built there should be commensurate with the natural beauty of the place. Inspiring architecture is common in such places.
    The building designed for the Blues Factory, sad to say, is more embarrassing than inspiring. Could anything be more trite than making a building look like a factory just because the business it houses has “Factory” in its name? Port Washington deserves better.        
    Half a century after the blighted Wisconsin Chair Co. manufacturing buildings that disfigured the harbor area were razed to clear the way for lakefront renewal, a building resembling a chair factory plant is proposed for the same location. That irony would be worth a laugh if it weren’t so aesthetically painful.
    Apart from the design, the developer owes it to the community to heed the advice of the city’s Design Review Board in placing the building on the site. Members of that board endorsed the idea that the space between the Blues Factory and a neighboring property should be widened from the narrow alleyway proposed in the plan.
    As the plan stands, the Factory building would be a daunting impediment to the public’s visual and physical access to the north marina slip. Widening the walkway and creating a public space for harbor viewing, what one design board member called a “pocket park,” would offer some relief.
    For their part, the city officials who are parties to the land deal have to finally admit the existence of the elephant in the room—the looming likelihood that the soon-to-be densely-developed marina district will be overwhelmed with traffic with no place to park the vehicles.
    The parking issue is too big for anyone to miss, but Common Council members couldn’t bring themselves to mention it in years of maneuvering to sell the harbor land (unless they did in one the numerous closed Blues Factory meetings). If the development is the success its backers have been claiming it will be, events there could bring an additional 150 vehicles or more into the already crowded marina district, which has just lost two large parking areas to accommodate building projects.
    What’s the plan? How will traffic and parking be managed? Answers are needed, because if there is no solution, the marina business that helps fund the city and depends on adequate parking will suffer, residents of the area will be severely impacted, the success of millions of dollars worth of new residential development could be compromised and access to the lakefront by the people of Port Washington will be further hindered.
    We believe that most people in Port Washington, even those who strongly oppose the Blues Factory, don’t want it to fail. It was, after all, the very real possibility of failure—it’s a risky venture that depends on the success of a restaurant and the unproven appeal of a blues music theme—that helped motivate the opposition.
    No one wants to see a vacant building or a high turnover of tenants in this precious spot. Visions of the possibilities for the next life of the building—perhaps a mini-mall with vendors selling cheesy tourist souvenirs like keychains attached to miniature Paramount records?—are disconcerting to say the least.
    So, yes, the people of Port should hope it doesn’t fail. But that’s not their responsibility. That belongs to the owners of the Blues Factory Problem.

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