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Blues Factory land purchase a done deal, officials say PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 17 January 2018 19:45

Controversial agreement to sell city lakefront land for entertainment complex to be finalized Thursday

    Port Washington officials are expected to sell the north marina slip parking lot to developer Gertjan van den Broek for the Blues Factory entertainment complex Thursday afternoon, Jan. 18.
    It’s a controversial sale that has split the city in a way not seen since the late 1970s, when the officials went against public opinion and decided to build the marina.
    In this case, officials have touted the Blues Factory development as a catalyst for investment in the lakefront and downtown while many members of the public have opposed it, saying the community should not sell publicly owned lakefront land.
    The Common Council on Tuesday paved the way for the transaction, approved a measure allowing officials to sign the sale documents. Only Ald. Mike Gasper voted against the resolution.
    “I’ve been against it the whole way,” Gasper said, adding, “I’m not against the Blues Factory. I just don’t think that’s the best site.”
    City Administrator Mark Grams told aldermen that van den Broek and neighboring shopping center owners Don Voigt and Jim Vollmar are in talks about the possibility of enlarging the alley between the former grocery store on the north end of the center and the Blues Factory and creating a public plaza there.
    That plan would require some design changes for the Blues Factory, Grams said, as well as a commitment on the part of Vollmar and Voigt that they would complete their project.
    “We’re not going to wait another 25 years,” he said, referring to how long the storefront has been vacant.
    Because of these potential changes, the city may need to extend some of the Blues Factory deadlines in the development agreement, Grams warned.
    “There are still going to be issues to deal with,” he said.
    Van den Broek is meeting with his investors Thursday to discuss the potential changes and gauge their interest, he said, and Vollmar and Voigt are doing their pro forma work on their project.
    After that, Grams said, the city will set up another meeting with the developers.
    But first, the city will sell the parking lot for the Blues Factory for $250,000.
    The city will use a portion of the funds to repair the sheetwall next to the parking lot, which is bowing and has led to fears about the stability of the property. That work could begin as early as next month, officials said.
    But even when the sale is completed, the  controversy over the development isn’t likely to dissipate any time soon.
    The sale has split the community since the city first entertained the idea of selling the parking lot for development in 2014, resulting in the ouster of several incumbent aldermen in the spring 2017 election.
    But despite that, Mayor Tom Mlada said the sale and Blues Factory development “means great things for the city.
    “This project means significant and important things in terms of economic impact and residential base. It takes an area of our city that has generated essentially zero in terms of revenue for 50 or 60 years and puts it on the map.”
    The Blues Factory will commemorate an often forgotten piece of Port’s history, the story of the Wisconsin Chair Co. and Paramount Records, in a performance space, restaurant and banquet hall — something residents and businesses have long said is needed in the city, Mlada added.
    The Blues Factory has already helped spur development in the area, he said, pointing to the Lakepointe condominiums being built at the east end of Washington Street and the Pier Street Apartments planned for the former Victor’s restaurant site.
     Mlada acknowledged the controversy, but said that it’s to be expected with change.
    “Looking at the broader picture of change, we needed to be courageous in terms of setting a vision for the city,” he said. “We did that, we executed on it, and I think the city will benefit from that in the long term.”

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 January 2018 19:46