Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 30 April 2014 18:26
Officials say free-spirited sport puts children at risk, has damaged park property
Teenagers and young adults doing parkour — a free-spirited sport in which participants flip, jump and run over, around and through urban areas while performing moves over or on man-made obstacles such as walls and buildings — have been making their mark in Port Washington.
But they’ve been seen plying their sport at Possibility Playground while children play and their parents watch, and that has officials concerned about the safety of youngsters and damage to equipment there.
Police Chief Kevin Hingiss said he’s been told the groups often have a spotter watching for children, but that isn’t enough.
“Kids aren’t so easy to predict,” he said. “All it would take is a little child running in front of them and someone’s going to get hurt, possibly seriously.”
City Administrator Mark Grams concurred, telling the Common Council last week that the teens take over the playground even as toddlers and young children are playing.
“It’s dangerous,” Grams said. “They’re doing it and there are mothers and kids up there.”
They have also caused damage, Grams said, noting that just two weeks ago they broke a slide in the toddler area of the playground.
“We’re probably going to have to eat (the cost),” he told aldermen.
Sue Mayer, general coordinator of Possibility Playground, said she’s been told the playground is popular among parkour enthusiasts in part because its rubberized surface makes landings softer and safer.
The playground was built for young children of all abilities, not for teenagers to jump and pound on, Mayer said.
“It’s amazing what they can do, but these structures are not built for that kind of pounding,” she said. “I’m trying to be respectful of what they’re doing, but it really worries me to have fully grown teens vaulting over our equipment.”
Although she only recently learned what the sport was called, Mayer said, organizers have noticed damage for years that can be attributed, at least in part, to parkour.
That includes damage to the walls and railings, broken chains on climbers intended for children who have limited mobility, and areas where the surface has bubbled due to the excessive use.
One group of parkour enthusiasts posted a video of their time in Port on YouTube, Mayer said, and it was disconcerting to see how the youths took over the playground while children were present and the way they treated the equipment.
“I thought, ‘This can’t continue,’” she said. “There were little kids playing there. If they run into their path, that child could be hurt seriously.
“I understand their feeling of it being art, but at the same time they’re not being respectful of the areas where they’re doing this.”
The slide that was damaged will cost about $900 to replace, not including the cost of installation, Mayer said, adding several adults in the park saw the group that damaged the equipment.
It’s not just Possibility Playground that’s used by parkour enthusiasts. The YouTube video shows a group practicing moves in Rotary Park, jumping over the picnic tables and off the bandshell in Veterans Park, and doing flips on walls and stairway railings along the Harborwalk. It also shows them jumping from the tops of privately owned buildings.
“They call it art, freedom of expression,” City Attorney Eric Eberhardt said. “I call it trespassing.”
Hingiss said he and Eberhardt are looking at drafting up an ordinance to regulate parkour in the city.
Current ordinances would cover some issues, such as trespassing, but may not be adequate to address the issue, he said.
“We’re not looking to issue a bunch of tickets here,” Hingiss said. “I don’t think they intend to hurt anyone or anything. But the potential is there.”
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 23 April 2014 17:54
Possibility that Holiday Inn could lose franchise tag sparks concern, source says
Port Washington officials are so concerned about the future of the Holiday Inn Harborview that they are considering hiring a firm to conduct a marketing study that could be used to attract potential buyers.
In addition to the potential of a change in ownership, the future of the hotel is further clouded by the possibility that it could lose the Holiday Inn brand.
The national hotel chain could lift the franchise if the owners of the Port Washington property do not commit to extensive upgrades by mid-May, according to a source with knowledge of the hotel’s situation.
Having a downtown hotel is important to the city, officials said, noting that it brings business to the area and supports the community’s tourism industry.
The marketing study would look at more than just a potential sale, examining such things as the amenities sought by area travelers and the ideal number of rooms for the city, officials said.
“That’s good data to have,” City Planner Randy Tetzlaff said. “It would give us an idea of what the overall market for hotels here is.”
Information from a study would apply not just to the Harborview but to other lodging operations as well, he added.
The study could be a valuable tool to help prospective buyers feel comfortable with the hotel, Mayor Tom Mlada said.
But the estimated $10,000 to $15,000 cost of a study is significant, and it has some officials wondering whether this is something the city should invest in.
The city’s concerns about the hotel spring in part from the fact that its owners said in February that they are in the early stages of talks to sell the downtown hotel.
The owners cautioned that a sale was not guaranteed and added that there was not an offer on the table.
The hotel, which is assessed at $3.35 million, is owned by Eric Lund and Craig Stark, who were among a group of investors that purchased it from the Smith family in 1998. The two men have since bought out the other investors, Lund said.
Lund is also chief operating officer of S&L Hospitality, which manages the hotel.
He said in February that while the hotel was not being actively marketed, it had been listed for sale in the past with an asking price of about $6.5 million.
The 96-room hotel in the heart of downtown Port has long been a hub for tourists and fishermen, as well as business travelers, and is seen by officials as vital to the health of the downtown.
Lund said that the hotel is “extremely busy” during the summer and fall, and during the winter there is a steady stream of customers.
That is borne out by the fact that last year, the Holiday Inn Harborview brought in about $146,000 in room tax, more than half the city’s total room tax revenue of $254,000.
That money is split between the city and the Tourism Council, which uses the funding to draw travelers to the community.
The hotel franchise is a valuable asset, officials said, noting the Holiday Inn draws visitors and business travelers. The room rates they pay directly correlate to the room tax revenue received by the city.
“The better the rooms, the more the revenue and room tax,” Tetzlaff said.
“I think the owners are doing everything possible to continue the flag (franchise).”
City Administrator Mark Grams said officials are frustrated by a lack of dialog with Lund and Stark, adding they don’t have a lot of definitive information about the status of the hotel.
“The owners aren’t telling us a whole lot,” Grams said. “We’re still trying to figure out what’s going on with the hotel.”
Efforts to meet or talk to the owners have been unsuccessful, he said.
“We’re willing to at least try and talk to the owners, to see if there’s any assistance we can offer,” Grams said.
What form that assistance takes is another question, Grams said.
Tetzlaff said the city could explore the idea of adding the hotel to its tax incremental financing district. The market study, he added, would give the city background needed if this were to occur.
While the city may have little to offer in terms of financial aid, it is willing to help assist in whatever way it can, officials said.
“We’ve jumped into the conversation because it (the hotel) is something we value, but there’s truly only so much we can do,” Mlada said. “We can make a case as a city as to how valuable it is, but in the end, it’s not up to us.”
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 16 April 2014 17:35
Port board OKs $750 contribution despite local firm’s move to Saukville
The Town of Port Washington Board, which earlier this year questioned whether to allocate $750 to support Ozaukee Economic Development, on Monday agreed to contribute to the agency after a presentation by director Kathleen Cady Shilling.
Town Board members were initially leery of spending the money, especially after finding out that Oldenburg Metal Tech Inc. was moving out of the township and into the Village of Saukville.
The company’s announcement came months after the town approved a change in its zoning code that paved the way for the firm to expand at its 3850 Hwy. KW location.
“We found out they were moving through the newspaper,” Supr. Jim Rychtik said — something he described last month as “disheartening.”
Town Chairman Jim Melichar noted that he had seen the company owner just days before the announcement, when officials believed the firm was expanding in the township.
“I asked him how his expansion was going, and he never said a word (about the move),” Melichar said.
Cady Shilling said the company’s first choice was to expand on the site, but a neighboring property owner would not sell land to the firm.
“They (company officials) had very good things to say about the town,” she said.
They plan to open a new business in the Town of Port building, Cady Shilling added.
The firm still has some operations at the Town of Port building, officials noted, but nowhere near the business that had been there.
Melichar asked how the town could get involved in similar situations to help prevent the loss of business.
That’s difficult, Cady Shilling said, noting that she is often bound by confidentiality requests not to talk about pending situations.
Officials asked whether any businesses had expressed interest in locating in the town.
“Right now, I don’t have anyone who’s interested,” Cady Shilling said.
The biggest deterrent for businesses looking at the town is the fact that it does not offer sewer or water service, she said.
Once utilities are extended to the town, she said, officials may see a boom in business.
Ozaukee Economic Development is a non-profit organization funded by governmental units and private contributions, Cady Shilling said. Sixth-percent of its funding comes from the county, she said.
Virtually every municipality in the county also makes a $750 annual contribution to the group, except for the Town of Saukville, which has never funded the group, she said. The Town of Belgium has not always contributed, she added, and the Town of Fredonia provides $500 annually.
The organization works to attract and retain businesses, as well as provide educational programs, administer the county’s revolving fund loan program, encourage entrepreneurship and offer an annual career fair.
Rychtik said he supports the group and the annual town contribution. The time is ripe for the organization to have an even greater impact on the township than in the past, he said.
“I think the business climate is turning around,” he said.
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV
Wednesday, 09 April 2014 18:01
Port High, Saukville youth programs working together after tough talk last season
Members of the Port Washington High School athletic staff who nearly seven months ago expressed dissatisfaction with the Pirates’ football feeder program — the Saukville Rebels — and warned that the high school coaches were prepared to field their own youth team said this week the two organizations are now working together to improve both programs.
“Our plan is that the Rebels will continue to be a feeder program,” Port High Athletic Director Thad Gabrielse said Monday. “There will always be things that we disagree about, but what we do agree on is that everything we’re doing is for the benefit of the kids who play football.
“I’d saying we’re taking a positive approach to making this work.”
News in September of the rift between the two football institutions shocked the Port-Saukville football faithful, who for decades have supported the Rebels as fervently as they have the Pirates.
At the time, Gabrielse said the Port High coaching staff was concerned that the Rebels were not doing enough to teach future Pirates the high school team’s offense and defense and that there wasn’t enough emphasis on football fundamentals.
Beyond the technical aspects of the game, Gabrielse said in September, the Port High administration was concerned with the Rebels’ philosophical approach to the game — how coaches deal with players and conduct themselves on the field and how playing time is divided among children.
That shocked Larry Donohue, president of the 54-year-old Rebels program, which fields teams for fifth through eighth-graders.
“I don’t even know where that’s coming from,” Donohue said at the time. “We’ve never cut a single player from our program, and we’ve never turned a kid away because his family couldn’t afford the registration fee. I always found a way to make sure those kids could play.”
Lending urgency to the concerns for Port High officials is declining participation in football. A total of about 80 boys played last season on the high school’s freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams, significantly fewer than in the program’s heyday.
Now, however, many of those concerns are being addressed by both organizations, thanks, Gabrielse said, to Pirates’ head football coach John Bunyan and his Rebels’ counterpart, Al Lopez, who have been meeting regularly.
“In the February meeting, the question of how to help increase the numbers (of players) at the freshman level was addressed,” Gabrielse said. “We’re focusing on how we keep kids interested and involved in football.
“It’s not that the Rebels were doing anything wrong, but our coaches have some insights based on what they see and hear.
“And playing time is being addressed.”
Bunyan said the meetings between the coaches of the programs have focused on maintaining the identities of the two long-standing programs while bringing them together in terms of football mechanics and philosophy.
“We’ve had a lot of talks, and they have been very productive in keeping the structure of the two organizations status quo but getting both programs on the same page in terms of offensive and defensive systems, positive coaching and keeping kids interested in football,” Bunyan said.
“Coaching football is a lot of work for youth coaches and my staff, but the good news is we’re working with people who have their hearts in the right spot.”
Bunyan said Pirates’ coaches and players will be more visible at Rebels’ practices and games. He envisions high school players attending Rebels practices occasionally and holding additional clinics and events that bring players of all ages and coaches together on the field.
“I want to build a community of kids excited about football,” Bunyan said. “I want kids to have fun and stay interested in football.”
Donohue is pleased the two programs are working more closely but said he is still perplexed by the sudden breakdown in relations between the organizations last season.
“To tell you the truth, I still don’t know what happened last season,” he said last week. “They (high school athletic staff members) apparently thought we weren’t doing enough to match what the high school team was doing or we weren’t doing it fast enough.
“We really haven’t changed a thing. Working with the high school has been an ongoing process for us. Our intention has always been to do what the high school does, which only makes sense since that’s where our kids will play eventually.
“Either way, everything seems fine now.”