Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 18 March 2015 19:57
Port council approves document that will be used to seek proposals for property off north slip
Port Washington aldermen on Tuesday approved the document they will use to seek development proposals for a lakefront parking lot off the north slip that the city owns.
Aldermen praised the document for its simplicity, which they said allows for a variety of uses to be proposed for the site.
“I like the way it’s written, short and sweet,” Ald. Dan Becker said.
Like the proposal for the Cedar Vineyard subdivision on the city’s south side, the city has taken care with the request for proposals to ensure the public will continue to have access to the lakefront, Becker noted.
“I look at this and, yes, we’re looking at potential development here but the harborwalk remains,” he said. “The public will have access to the waterfront.”
At the same time, it allows the city to move forward a development proposal with the potential to have a major economic impact on the downtown, Mayor Tom Mlada said.
“That lot is the one strategic redevelopment site we own,” he said. “We can still do things like this that have the right economic impact on the city.”
The controversial plan to sell the city property has already elicited one proposal from developers Chris Long of Madison and Gertjan van den Broek of Port Washington, who said they want to create a Paramount Blues-themed museum, restaurant, performance space and banquet hall on the property.
City officials expect to receive a number of proposals for the land, noting about a half-dozen firms have called to ask about the property.
The request for proposals approved Tuesday allows developers to either buy or lease the land, noting the appraised value of the property is $575,000 but terms are negotiable.
The request for proposals asks that any development meet the city criteria, said Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development.
It should be a destination that makes efficient use of the site, seamlessly integrates the streetscape, landscape and the harbor walk and will have a catalytic economic impact on downtown.
It should adhere to the city’s master redevelopment plan, which calls for a commercial and retail use in a building that’s no more than two stories tall and the building design should honor the existing urban fabric.
The property is currently zoned central business district, which allows for a variety of commercial and residential uses, the request notes.
Anyone submitting a development proposal is required to include an architectural plan, a detailed project schedule, completed value of the project and a resume of the development team and its experience, the request states. They must also submit any special assistance required for the project and information demonstrating they have the wherewithal to fund the project.
The request for proposals is expected to go out to developers once a preliminary environmental assessment for the property is completed.
After that, developers will have 75 days to submit their proposals.
The proposals will be reviewed by a committee comprised of members of the Community Development Authority and city staff, who will determine which developers will be invited to interviews.
The CDA will interview the developers, and their concepts will be reviewed by the Plan Commission and Design Review Board.
Based on their input, the CDA will recommend a developer to the Common Council.
Although the request for proposals currently calls for proposals to be due on June 5 and the Common Council to award a contract around July 7, that timeline may be delayed depending on when the environmental assessment is completed, Tetzlaff said.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 11 March 2015 20:13
Officials tout preservation of shipwrecks as one of many benefits Great Lakes designation would give city
Ellen Brody told the story of the steamer Senator to a crowd of more than 50 people at Port Washington City Hall Tuesday.
It was a ship built in 1896 in Michigan, she said, and it sailed the Great Lakes for years. On Oct. 31, 1929 — Halloween — it left Milwaukee bound for Detroit but in dense fog it was struck by the Marquette, an ore carrier.
“The Senator did not fare well,” Brody said. It sank off Port Washington and between seven and 10 of its 31 crew members were lost.
The ship, which was found by divers in 450 to 500 feet of water in 2005, was carrying 250 to 260 new Nash automobiles, she said.
“It makes you kind of wonder, what do those automobiles look like today,” Brody said. “My guess is they’re extremely well preserved.”
The cold, deep waters of Lake Michigan help preserve shipwrecks, said Brody, and it’s the envy of her colleagues at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
That environment, along with the number of wrecks in the waters between Port Washington and Two Rivers, are among the reasons the 875 square mile area is being considered as a national marine sanctuary by NOAA.
The proposed sanctuary is one of two potential sites listed on an inventory by the agency.
A 2008 study by the Wisconsin State Historical Society shows the area has 34 known shipwrecks, including two of the oldest in Wisconsin, said Brody, NOAA’s regional coordinator for the Great Lakes. Fourteen of the wrecks are intact, and four have standing masts, which is unusual, she said.
Fifteen of these wrecks are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, she added.
“What’s not on this list is the other reason for the nomination, the opportunity for new discoveries,” Brody said.
Sanctuaries are a lot like national parks, except they’re underwater, Brody told the crowd. They run the gamut from areas with protected coral reefs to habitat for humpback whales, and they range in size from 200 square miles to 90,000 square miles.
“Sanctuaries vary greatly,” she said.
The primary reason for a sanctuary is to protect a resource, and in the case of the proposed Port-to-Two Rivers sanctuary, it’s to protect shipwrecks, she said.
They are also intended to be sources of education and outreach, research and monitoring and community engagement, she said.
While many people fear that sanctuaries will be kept off limits, that’s not the case, Brody said.
“That is not the case in national marine sanctuaries,” she said.
Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, Mich., the only Great Lakes sanctuary, has no restrictions on fishing or diving, Brody said, adding it’s likely that similar rules would be enforced if a Port-to-Two Rivers sanctuary is approved.
The basic rules are that people cannot move or take artifacts from the wrecks, she said.
“Enforcement’s tough,” she conceded, noting NOAA depends on the Coast Guard and Department of Natural Resources to enforce the rules in Michigan.
Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary on Lake Huron was designated a sanctuary in 2000, and was recently expanded from 448 square miles to 4,300 square miles, Brody said.
“We have deep shipwrecks, shallow shipwrecks,” she said. “Some are intact. Some are broken up. They all have stories.”
A buoy program installs mooring buoys on some of the wrecks, giving boaters somewhere to tie up so they don’t cast nets or drop anchors on the shipwrecks, damaging them, she said.
The visitor’s center at Thunder Bay is the largest of the facilities at a NOAA sanctuary, Brody said, noting not all sanctuaries have such facilities.
In the case of the proposed Port-to-Two Rivers sanctuary, she said, NOAA would have a presence in each of the communities — and probably not have a visitor’s center in each one.
Community support and involvement is an important element, Brody said.
A marine sanctuary is a destination, Brody added, noting Alpena, a community of 10,000 people, had almost 100,000 visitors in 2014.
“The whole identity of Alpena has changed,” she said. “They no longer consider themselves an industrial town.”
Instead, they consider the community a tourist destination, she said.
Brody warned the crowd that just because the local area is on the inventory for consideration to become a sanctuary, it won’t necessarily occur.
“I will go out on a limb and say I believe we will (move forward with the process),” she said, primarily because the application put forth by Port Washington, Sheboygan, Manitowoc and Two Rivers is “very persuasive.”
One woman questioned why NOAA wouldn’t want to add an area as rich in wrecks and history to its sanctuaries.
“You’d think with such a rich shipwreck history, NOAA would jump on it,” she said.
The long process ensures success for the sanctuaries, Brody said.
“It’s pretty new,” she said. “We’re being deliberate. We’re being careful. The product at the end is strong.”
“Be patient,” Brody told the crowd, noting that once an area is selected for designation, the process can take several years. “I will be your advocate.”
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 04 March 2015 21:43
Officials weigh cost impact but remain confident that financing district is viable for Cedar Vineyard development
Although the final report isn’t completed, the possibility of creating a tax incremental financing district for the Cedar Vineyard subdivision proposed for Port Washington’s south side still looks good, City Administrator Mark Grams said Tuesday.
The city is continuing to look at both the cost of infrastructure improvements such as utility extensions, a bike path, road repair and land acquisition, he said, as well as the potential boundaries of the district.
That’s because the city may try to connect a portion of the industrial park to the TIF district to accommodate such projects as an expansion of Construction Forms, Grams said.
But to do this, he said, the city will have to work with Anchor Bank to create a connection between the subdivision on the former VK Development land and the industrial park.
“They have indicated they’re willing to work with us,” Grams said.
Grams said the city is struggling to come up with reliable cost estimates for the extension of sewer and water service to the Cedar Vineyard subdivision on Highway C.
The Cedar Vineyard subdivision would have 73 home sites, a 100-acre nature conservancy, vineyard and winery on the former VK Development property.
Officials have said the Cedar Vineyard development is expected to be valued at more than $50 million when completed, with the value of the homes and lots expected to range from $650,000 to $880,000.
In his preliminary calculations, Grams said, he looked at the worst-case scenario, with the utilities costing $6 million and the value of the lots being 25% less than the developer anticipates.
But, Grams said Tuesday, the cost estimate to extend the utilities has been fluctuating as the project engineers look at different ways to extend those services.
“There are ways to cut costs, and that’s what we’re looking at,” Grams said.
Despite the changes, Grams said he still believes the $6 million figure is “probably in the ballpark.”
And that number means a TIF district is still feasible, he said, noting that he still hasn’t included the value of the project’s vineyard and winery in those calculations.
“That gives us a little wiggle room,” he said.
The city is looking at whether it can include a $1 million contribution toward the purchase of a 101-acre nature preserve as a TIF project in the plan, Grams said.
If Ozaukee County balks and won’t help fund the project, the city will consider whether it can contribute the entire $2 million needed, he added.
“We would look at it and see if we can handle it,” he said. “I don’t know if the TIF could handle it.”
Mayor Tom Mlada said that while the city is willing to consider that option, he is confident the county will contribute half the funding for the nature preserve.
“I know you’re not going to move everybody to the yes camp,” he said. “But I think when people really consider the impact this could have not only to the city but to the county, I’m confident this will happen.”
Grams said he hopes to have a draft TIF plan and district borders for the March 17 Common Council meeting.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 25 February 2015 20:08
Port aldermen voice enthusiasm for lakefront project that calls for Paramount museum, entertainment complex
The Port Washington Common Council greeted plans for a Paramount blues-themed entertainment complex on the waterfront with enthusiasm last week, saying the proposal meets every goal officials have set for the city-owned property.
Ald. Doug Biggs, noting the city is expected to seek proposals from developers for the property on the north end of the north slip, said the Blues Factory concept “really sets a high bar for the process, and for anyone else who might be interested in that space.”
Aldermen were enthused about the fact the concept includes a museum, restaurant, entertainment venue and banquet facility.
“Frankly, I think it’s about time,” Ald. Bill Driscoll said, noting a banquet facility is sorely needed in the city. “I like this.”
Ald. Mike Ehrlich said, “I really like the idea. It touches on Port’s history, a part of Port’s history that many residents don’t know about. It’s a rich history.”
“It would fit well with our community,” Ald Dan Becker said. “I love the historical tie. I love the concept.”
To facilitate the sale of the city-owned parking lot, aldermen agreed to spend $1,600 to conduct a phase one environmental assessment of the parking lot and to obtain an appraisal of the property.
The city is expected to seek proposals to develop the land next month.
The Blues Factory concept is the brainchild of Christopher Long of Madison, president and CEO of the Blues Factory, who is working in partnership with Port Washington developer Gertjan van den Broek.
Long, a blues aficionado, said the story of the Wisconsin Chair Co. and Paramount Records has a worldwide following that needs to be commemorated.
The Blues Factory would capitalize on that, providing a destination for tourists and residents alike, Long said, adding that in addition to regular concerts the facility would host an outdoor music festival in summer.
The Blues Factory would primarily sponsor blues and jazz performances — which could be recorded in the performance hall — and focus on emerging artists, Long said.
Long said that before he came to Port Washington, he knew only that the city is home to Allen Edmonds and Paramount Records.
When he first visited, he said, he looked for a monument to the Paramount Records and the Chair Co. and was astonished there wasn’t one.
“The purpose of the Blues Factory is simple, to preserve and celebrate the remarkable story of Paramount Records and the Wisconsin Chair Co.,” Long told the Common Council Feb. 18.
Long said he came up with the idea of the Blues Factory before the city decided to sell the parking lot and was looking at other sites. But, he said, when the city made its controversial decision to seek development proposals for the parking lot, everything fell into place for him.
That’s because the city-owned parking lot is the former home of the chair company, he said, adding he plans to submit a development proposal to the city.
Long said he would like to open the Blues Factory in 2017, noting it is the centennial of the founding of Paramount Records.
The Paramount story is one of a true American art form, as well as one of business and commerce, of technology struggling to find its place in the marketplace and of music, Long said.
The two-story building, which is being designed by the Cedarburg firm of Kubala Washatko Architects, would take up the entire parking lot, he said.
The four aspects of the building — the museum, restaurant, performance space and banquet hall — would incorporate separate but interconnected spaces that could be used alone or in concert with one another, he said.
For example, someone could rent the banquet facility, have their event catered by the restaurant and include a performance in the entertainment hall, he said.
Long said he plans two rounds of equity funding for the project — an initial private offering followed by a direct public offering under Wisconsin’s new crowdfunding laws. This, he said, would allow the community to take ownership of the facility.
Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development, called the proposal “something pretty extraordinary.”
“It’s something that could only go in Port Washington,” he said.
The proposal also meets the city’s goals for the parking lot, Mayor Tom Mlada said. It is in line with the city’s master redevelopment plan, includes a sustainable business and makes efficient use of the lakefront space, is a destination that would bring people and business to downtown and help spur further development.
“It really does check every one of those boxes,” Mlada said.