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Keeping the Blues Factory on life support PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 14 September 2016 19:28

At what point does the Blues Factory debacle become a civic embarrassment?

That point may already have been reached. If so, it occurred at about 1 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 7, when Port Washington aldermen returned to the council chamber after a two-hour closed session and voted not to hold the developer of the proposed lakefront entertainment complex accountable for the latest missed deadline.

With its decision to give the developer an indefinite amount of additional time to meet the terms of an agreement requiring proof of financing, the Common Council all but admitted that the three deadlines that have come and gone without consequences were for appearances only and not to be taken seriously.

Instead of a new deadline, the Blues Factory was given an oxymoron—an indefinite deadline.

The decision had the look of a desperate attempt to keep the development on life support in the face of strong opposition in the community and doubts about its financial underpinnings.

Those doubts were exacerbated by the announcement Tuesday by Christopher Long that he is severing ties with the Blues Factory. Long is the Madison-area business consultant and blues music aficionado who conceived the Blues Factory idea and was its principal developer and passionate advocate. In withdrawing from the project, he cited “gaps that must be bridged” to meet city requirements.

The developer’s failure to abide by June, August and September deadlines came in spite of a generous incentive to meet the city’s terms—a promise of a $1 million loan from taxpayers. 

In May, the council agreed to provide the million-dollar subsidy through tax incremental financing and allow some of it to be used to buy publicly owned land adjacent to the marina for the Blues Factory provided the project had obtained $250,000 in private equity investment and a loan for $5.5 million.

The public was excluded from the Blues Factory discussion at last week’s Common Council meeting (as it has been from numerous other meetings on the subject), and officials did not reveal whether any progress had been made toward meeting the financial requirements.

The council’s current willingness to grant serial delays contrasts with the uncommon speed with which the mayor and aldermen pushed the Blues Factory initiative early on. Fast action was essential, they said then, because the developer needed to have the complex open by April 2017 to benefit from promoting the 100th anniversary of Paramount Records. That schedule proved to be as illusory as the missed deadlines.

By refusing to enforce its own deadlines, the council failed to take advantage of an opportunity to put a graceful end to the controversy it created with its insistence on selling the marina land for commercial development regardless of broad, enduring public opposition.

That opportunity was the offer by three marina district land owners, led by Ansay Development Corp., to buy the north slip parking lot earmarked for the Blues Factory for $250,000 in cash and turn it into public greenspace.

The offer addresses the conviction that drives opposition to the Blues Factory—that public lakefront land should not be used for buildings that block or impede visual and physical access to the water.

The city rushed headlong into the Blues Factory adventure without a comprehensive plan for marina district development. The proposal by Ansay and the other landowners attempts to fill that void with an outline that not only saves the north slip land for the public, but calls for keeping large buildings back from the water.

The plan in its present form may not be the ultimate answer, but it commands credibility by emphasizing a fundamental truth recognized by enlightened waterfront communities everywhere: When you’re gifted with proximity to a beautiful body of water, you don’t build to the water’s edge—especially on public land.

The landowners’ offer comes with opportunities for compromise, including the possibility of an alternative site for the Blues Factory. Unfortunately, when dealing with the north slip land, city officials have consistently chosen a fortress mentality over compromise.

Meanwhile, the image of elected representatives repeatedly going the extra mile for a developer as they gamble the public’s land and tax money on a risky bet suggests greater concern for the developer than for the more than 1,000 citizens who signed petitions against the land sale and others who expressed their opposition with lawn signs and letters to the editor and by patiently waiting at public meetings to voice their opposition. 

This surely disappoints or angers some residents. Others might just be embarrassed for their city.

Government work worth a cheer PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 07 September 2016 17:59

Disgruntlement reigns over the land. Significant numbers of Americans are disappointed, angry or even outraged over what they see as the failure of their government and other institutions to do enough to give them the opportunities they deserve to make their lives better. It’s a recurrent theme in this year’s bitterly fought presidential election race.

People who read the remarkable news about a new nature preserve in last week’s Ozaukee Press should be feeling better about those institutions. The news was that four levels of government and a nonprofit organization are giving the public, and in particular the people of Ozaukee County, a gift of everlasting value that will enhance the quality of the lives that make use of the gift, lives here today, and those of future generations.

The gift is 102 acres of lakeshore land that will be protected from development and preserved for use by the public. The gift was given by the governments of the United States, the State of Wisconsin, Ozaukee County and the City of Port Washington and the Ozaukee-Washington Land Trust.

The most remarkable part of the news was that no local tax money will be needed to create what will be called the Clay Bluff/Cedar Gorge Nature Preserve. The land will be paid for by the federal government through a $1 million NOAA grant channeled through Wisconsin’s Coastal Management Program and by the state with a $1 million grant from the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program. 

Both the county and the city had committed to paying a significant part of the cost. That won’t be needed now, but their commitment was a key factor in making the preserve a reality. The overall driving force, without which the initiative could not have been successful, was the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, whose efforts facilitated the generous grants.

The Land Trust will use grant money to purchase the land. It will then deed it to Ozaukee County to be part of its park system, the same type of partnership that gave the public the Lion’s Den Nature Preserve with its dramatic landscape above the lakeshore a short distance south of the new preserve.

To fully appreciate the value of protecting one of the last undeveloped tracts of land on the Lake Michigan shore in southeast Wisconsin for public use, consider what might have been. The land was part of the 227-acres of Town of Grafton farmland that was annexed by the City of Port Washington in 1995 for a massive subdivision that would have taken possession of the lake bluffs, beaches and forested gorge and ravines for the enjoyment of those who could afford to buy the development’s luxury homes or to stay at its resort hotel.

This egregious example of urban sprawl was undone by the financial collapse of the would-be developer—a misfortune for the company known as VK, a blessing for the public.

The nature preserve’s positive impact includes its role as the linchpin of a 73-home development designed with environmental sensitivity and set back from the lake bluff to be called Cedar Vineyard in recognition of the vineyard that will be established nearby. 

A few City of Port Washington officials have been heard to complain that there is too much parkland in the city. But there are no complaints about the sprawling Clay Bluff park, for it is an essential element of the salvation of the VK annexation.

As an additional bonus, nature preserve fees charged to Cedar Vineyard homeowners will pay for maintenance of the preserve by the county.

Overall, there is so much to benefit the public in the creation of the Clay Bluff/Cedar Gorge Nature Preserve that even folks who tend to see the glass half empty when it comes to the performance of their government may want to raise that glass and give a cheer.

The sting of greed PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 31 August 2016 20:29

It’s yellow jacket season in Wisconsin, the time of year when aggressively nasty black and yellow striped wasps buzz around places where humans are eating or drinking and sometimes deliver smarting stings to those who get in their way.

Wasp stings are painful for everyone, but for some they can be deadly, triggering an allergic reaction that can send victims into shock that can cause death. People at risk for severe reactions from insect bites and other sources, including food allergies, carry EpiPens.

Many a life has been saved by the shot of adrenaline dispensed by one of these devices. EpiPens are lifesavers that millions of Americans, many of them children, dare not be without. Which makes the greed of the pharmaceutical company that markets the EpiPen all the more unconscionable. 

People who have to buy EpiPens as a life-saving measure for themselves or their children are appalled that Mylan, the company that acquired the decades-old product in 2007, has raised the wholesale price for a two-pen set by 500% to more than $600. 

There is no justification for the exorbitant price increases. The EpiPen sold today is essentially the same product it was when it was being sold for $100 per set.

Those vulnerable to deadly allergic reactions are advised to carry two EpiPens at all times. The devices, which with a stab in the thigh deliver an injection of a powerful dose of epinephrine to counter extreme swelling and closing of airways, usually have to be replaced each year because of expiration dates.

Public outrage has spread to Congress, where there are calls for investigations and hearings. That’s fine, but Congress needs to do more.

Allergy sufferers in countries such as Canada and Britain pay far less for EpiPens (and most prescription drugs) because their governments are empowered to negotiate the price of drugs with pharmaceutical companies on behalf of national health care programs. That is not the case in the United States, but Congress could make it so.

Overall, the price of prescription drugs in the U.S. has increased 38% in the last decade. Inflation in that period was 18%, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.

When it comes to prescription drugs, the law of supply and demand can be a burden on the American health care system. In the case of EpiPens, Mylan controls the supply, having a virtual monopoly (the only alternatives to EpiPens are syringes and vials of medicine, which are difficult to carry and clumsy to use, and a single competing product that is hard to find and rarely prescribed), and the demand will be strong for as long as humans suffer from allergies. 

Mylan has taken full advantage of the situation. Its revenue from EpiPen sales is estimated at $1 billion per year by Bloomberg News, up from $200 million when it acquired the product.

Even those in Congress who genuflect to the ideal of totally unfettered free market capitalism must see that failure to apply anti-trust regulations to companies that game the system by fighting the development of less costly generic drug products and that the resistance to allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices are taking a toll on the economic health, as well as the physical health, of Americans.

Yet Congress has shown few signs of acquiring that vision. Perhaps its eyesight is clouded by the enormous amounts of its profits Big Pharma spends on political contributions and lobbying.

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