Port officials welcome proposed renovation of downtown building but skeptical about giving potential buyer more time
Port Washington businessman Gertjan van den Broekâs plan to buy and renovate the dilapidated former M&I Bank building in downtown Port ran head-first into officialsâ frustrations with the current building owner Tuesday night.
The Common Council took no action on van den Broekâs request to stay the raze order, in part because it was not on the agenda.
That means, unless aldermen call a special meeting to act on the matter, a demolition permit should be taken out Friday, with work to be completed by Feb. 17, in accordance with an agreement the city has with Port Harbor Investments, City Administrator Mark Grams said.
Van den Broekâs plan to delay purchasing the building from Port Harbor Investments until late May seemed to provoke much of the controversy, despite the fact that he pledged to repair the exterior of the structure even before he owns the former bank.
Van den Broek previously said he planned to close the purchase Jan. 30.
âThat, to me, is unacceptable,â Mayor Scott Huebner said of the new closing date. âThis situation keeps perpetuating. It has to end.â
Ald. Dan Becker said the city needs assurance that changes will occur.
âThis city does not need to go through another tourist season with the building in disrepair,â Becker said.
âThis body cannot keep moving forward on what-ifs and maybes. We need something concrete.â
Ald. Mike Ehrlich expressed confidence van den Broek can redevelop the former bank, but said he is uncomfortable lifting a raze order while the building is still owned by Port Harbor Investments.
âMy biggest concern is to have this other property owner have the building until May. Theyâre a wild card,â Ehrlich said. âIf Iâm going to do this (postpone the raze order), I want Gertjan to own the building.â
Van den Broek has agreed to put up a letter of credit to ensure the building facade is repaired by May 31, weather permitting, even if the purchase hasnât been completed by then, his attorney Bruce McIlnay said.
Last month, after time had run out for Port Harbor Investments to find a buyer for the building and was to raze the structure, the firm accepted a purchase offer from van den Broekâs firm, Renew Port Holdings.
Van den Broek then asked the city to lift the raze order, saying it would be impossible to obtain financing for the purchase and needed renovations with the order in place. Aldermen gave him until Jan. 20 to decide if he would buy the building, staying the order until then.
But they made it clear they did not want the building to remain in its current state during the tourist season. Van den Broekâs plan to repair the exterior of the structure is expected to be reviewed by the Plan Commission Thursday, Jan. 19.
Some aldermen said the city needs to work with van den Broek, saying he is not Port Harbor Investments and should not be tainted by the cityâs problems with the firm.
âItâs not Gertjan who caused all this angst,â Ald. Joe Dean said. âI think we need to take a deep breath and work with this guy. We have to be very careful and separate Mr. van den Broek and the unfortunate past history.â
The city is smart enough to be able to write an agreement that will protect it and ensure the building is repaired in case the sale isnât consummated, Dean added.
âThis is a whole new group,â Ald. Burt Babcock said. âIf the city tried to work with him, it might possibly happen.â
Although van den Broek was out of town and could not be at Tuesdayâs council meeting, McIlnay told aldermen that he is committed to the project.
âHe is working diligently to put financing in place,â McIlnay said, especially for the interior renovations, which may be done in stages.
Aldermen also expressed frustration Tuesday with van den Broekâs timeline, which doesnât call for the concept for the building to be finalized until mid-August, Plan Commission approval until late October and construction next spring.
Van den Broek has said he has conceptual plans for the building, but he needs to refine them and make sure they are the right fit before presenting them to the city.
âShow us what youâve been working on,â Becker said. âI donât care if 11 of (the dozen plans van den Broek said he had considered) are junk. Show us what you have in mind.â
Van den Broekâs architect Jim Read told aldermen that they spent the summer working on potential plans.
âWe canât put them in front of you until we know we can finance them. We canât get financing with a raze order,â Read said, calling the situation a Catch 22.
âNow, weâre talking three months.â
The facade repairs are relatively minor, he said, telling aldermen that eight pieces of terra cotta are missing from the building.
âThatâs not much,â Read said, adding that once the building is torn down the city will never get another historic structure in its place.
âItâs a wonderful building,â he said. âIt means a lot to the city.â
While some aldermen said they are worried by what they called an11th-hour plan to rescue the building, McIlnay said van den Broek had repeatedly made offers on the bank building previously. It was only in December that his offer to purchase was accepted and he could begin work in earnest.