Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 31 July 2013 17:51
Port council will consider loan to subsidize downtown redevelopment project
Port Washington developer Gertjan van den Broek on Monday asked the Common Council to finance as much as 20% of his $6 to $7 million project to renovate the former M&I Bank and Harry’s Restaurant buildings in downtown and create a multi-million-dollar retail and luxury residential development.
After a closed session that lasted more than an hour, aldermen agreed that the idea is worth exploring. They voted to apply for a $250,000 State Trust Fund loan to help finance the renovations to the former bank building — the first phase of van den Broek’s project.
Financing for the second phase of the project will be discussed later, officials said.
However, aldermen stressed that their action Monday does not commit the city to the loan, something they will only do if they can successfully negotiate terms with van den Broek.
Mayor Tom Mlada said Tuesday those terms will likely revolve around ways to mitigate any risk for taxpayers.
“We need to make sure we’ve got protections in place for the taxpayers,” he said.
The city will likely find out if it would receive a Trust Fund Loan in about a month, City Administrator Mark Grams said. A final decision on the phase one incentives would come after that.
The city is considering a Trust Fund Loan rather than conventional municipal financing because it is a quicker, simpler process, Grams said. The interest rate would likely be a little higher than the city would otherwise get, but the cost of obtaining the funds is less.
Widely used in other communities, developer incentives are typically considered to be an investment by the community, which gets a return through the increased taxes on the project.
In Port’s case, they were approved as part of the city’s downtown tax incremental financing district several years ago as a way to help promote large-scale projects.
If approved, van den Broek’s Harbour Lights Condominium project would be the first time Port used incentives to help fund a private project.
Ald. Mike Ehrlich said Tuesday that the benefits to downtown make this project one to consider for the incentive program. “I think it’s worth exploring the options,” he said. “I think it’s a good project. It’s significant and could jump start other investments downtown.
“We want to do everything we can within reason to work with the developer. But clearly the council won’t just jump into something without reassurances. We have to be careful, because at the end of the day, we have to answer to the taxpayers. There’s a lot of negotiating to do.”
Ald. Paul Neumyer said he’s not sure whether development incentives are the way to go, but he’s willing to consider them.
“I still have a lot of unanswered questions if it’s in the best interest of the taxpayers of the City of Port Washington,” he said. “We’re not committed to anything yet.”
There is a lot of potential good that could result from the project, Mlada said, and that’s one reason the council should consider the incentives.
“There’s a lot to like about it,” he said. “Long-term, you could be talking about a return of a sizeable increment (increase in the tax base).”
Even the strongest developer can fail, Mlada said, citing the case of Brookfield developer Vincent Kuttemperoor, whose plans to build a sprawling luxury development on the city’s south side fell victim to the economic slowdown. Banks foreclosed on the hundreds of acres Kuttemperoor owned and are now trying to sell them.
Van den Broek, representing Renew Port Holdings 1 LLC, plans to renovate the two buildings and constructing a new structure between them. The buildings would house five commercial spaces and 13 residential units that feature rooftop terraces, balconies and underground parking accessed from a lake-side municipal parking lot.
The units range in price from $239,000 to $895,000 for two 2,750-square-foot penthouses that feature 18-foot ceilings and private rooftop gardens, van den Broek said.
A small park would also be created along Franklin Street in front of the new building.
Feasibility and market studies were used to refine the concept, van den Broek said, and led him to increase the size of the units, decrease the size of the lakeside decks and emphasize soundproofing between the units.
There is a demand for high-quality residential units in the city, van den Broek said, and for high-quality residential units along the lake throughout the region.
“The project is viable on paper,” he told aldermen. “The feasibility is there. It works best as a public-private partnership.”
Van den Broek asked the council to help fund each of the two phases of his project.
He requested $250,000 be available in September to help finance the first phase — renovation of the former M&I Bank building. That work could begin this fall and be completed by spring.
Van den Broek did not have a dollar figure for the subsidy needed for the second phase, saying that would depend on the project budget.
The total incentive, including the funding for phase one, would be 15% to 20% of the project cost, he said. The remainder of the financing would come from banks and other sources.
The city funding for phase two would be contingent on a number of items, including Renew Port Holdings’ obtaining financing for the entire project, Plan commission approval and the completion of phase one, van den Broek said.
Van den Broek called the city funding critical to the project.
“It would show a very strong commitment for the next steps of the project,” he said, and “take the project from paper to reality.
“The condo market is a tough market. Port Washington is also considered a tough market. This project would stand a better chance of success with TIF funding.”
The city’s funding would show a level of investment and commitment that could draw other investors to the project, he added.
An analysis by the city shows that the increased downtown tax base and the additional taxes generated by it would not only pay for the funds he’s requesting but offer a net return
for the city, van den Broek said.
In addition to adding $6 million to the downtown tax base, he said, the development would add 10,000 square feet of commercial space and bring people to the central shopping district.
“We truly believe this mixed use development downtown, in this particular location, is going to be a catalyst for downtown development,” van den Broek said.
Retail uses follow residential development, he said, and this will draw the residents needed to bring more shops downtown.
If the city only approves the $250,000 to fund the renovations to the former bank, van den Broek said, he would move ahead with that work, creating both residential and retail space.
“Obviously we want it to be part of the bigger project, but I certainly don’t intend for that building to sit vacant,” he said, adding he already has several potential tenants for the commercial space in the former bank.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 24 July 2013 18:26
Merchandise, website will be sold to help pay bills from cancelled event
The remnants of Port Washington Pirate Festival, everything from the name itself to the festival website and merchandise, will be put on the auction block soon, with the proceeds going to pay off the festival’s debt, founder Kim McCulloch said.
“We want to make sure the opportunity’s out there for someone else — the city, businesses, the blues group — to carry on what we started,” McCulloch said. “If the parks department wants it, great. If the business owners want it, great. If civic groups want it, great.
“As long as the city’s happy with them and wants to work with them, great. They (the city) obviously don’t want to work with us.”
No one on Pirate Festival’s organizing committee is interested in bidding on the items, she said, although the members would work with the winning bidder to walk them through the process initially.
“It would be a shame for this not to continue,” she said. “It’s pretty much a turnkey operation. We don’t have to be a part of it.”
McCulloch said that Pirate Festival was started to help downtown businesses, a goal it had achieved.
“It did a great job at that,” McCulloch said. “We made sure everyone went down to the businesses.”
Pirate Festival, a popular event that kicked off the summer festival season in downtown Port Washington for eight years, was cancelled in April.
Tensions between the city and the organizers had gotten so bad by that point that the Common Council approved plans for another event, Port Harbor Family Festival, to be held during the first week of June, when Pirate Fest was traditionally held.
McCulloch said that the impact of cancelling Pirate Fest was significant.
“The City of Port Washington needs Port Washington Pirate Festival, and the businesses do too,” she said.
Although plagued by poor weather most years, Pirate Festival drew crowds of as many as 30,000 people to the city each year.
But city officials said they were concerned about items that included a lack of security and clean-up, and said they wanted to see a more structured approach to the festival’s planning. The city asked for a variety of information, including a list of organizers, permit and license applications, certificate of insurance, a security contract and ground plans.
That didn’t happen, officials said, adding the final straw came when a number of vendors from last year’s festival contacted them because they hadn’t been paid.
McCulloch said she had been poorly treated by the city and because of that members of her organizing committee didn’t want their contact information given to officials. The city had also threatened to turn the festival over to others to run, she said, making her reluctant to turn over much of the information the city sought.
McCulloch said she is still working out the details of the auction, which she hopes to have completed by the end of September.
Proceeds will go to help pay off the festival’s bills, she said, although she declined to say how much they total.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 17 July 2013 17:57
Port council directs attorney to draw up ordinance that will make it illegal to feed ducks and geese
The Port Washington Common Council on Tuesday directed City Attorney Eric Eberhardt to draw up an ordinance making it illegal to feed ducks and geese in the city.
“I don’t think there’s any one of us who hasn’t fed the ducks and geese somewhere down the line and have fun doing it,” Ald. Bill Driscoll said.
“But the waste from the birds is causing all kinds of hazards, not only for people but for other birds. It’s a terrible breeding ground for parasites and bacteria.”
Birds that normally migrate become dependent on the food that people give them and don’t leave the area, Driscoll said.
“We come in and feed these birds and they ignore nature and stay here,” he said.
“If they move, the natural area has a chance to revive itself. But if they don’t leave, there is no chance for recovery.”
The problem of waterfowl is most acute near the marina, where the birds soil the docks and walkways, said Driscoll, a member of the Harbor Commission, which recommended the law.
And birds are likely to become a big problem at the coal dock, Ald. Dave Larson said. Before construction of Coal Dock Park began, he said, there were so many birds it was hard to see the ground.
That could get even worse if people visiting the new park feed the waterfowl, he said. Their waste could make it impossible to even sit on the grass.
“It would ruin everything we’ve done to beautify the coal dock and make it the gem we want it to be,” Larson said.
Ald. Mike Ehrlich questioned how effective an ordinance would be in stopping people, especially since they can be seen feeding the waterfowl while standing next to the “Please don’t feed the birds” sign on the north end of the marina.
“How do we really help the problem?” Ehrlich asked.
Driscoll said education is the key.
“It’s not just about making a law,” he said. “This isn’t a revenue-making thing. We don’t want the city to ticket 5-year-olds.”
An ordinance would give police the power to inform people they can’t feed the birds and tell them why, Larson added.
Mayor Tom Mlada said the city needs to take action now to prevent problems from occurring.
He and his children recently went to a park in another community that birds frequent, Mlada said, “and you literally cannot walk anywhere without stepping in it (waste). It’s not fun.
“Anything you can do to keep the birds away and mitigate the issue is fine.”
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 10 July 2013 17:17
Officials voice concern about liability city may face if it installs waterfront kiosk
Port Washington officials may be asked to reconsider their support for a loaner life vest program at the marina.
The Harbor Commission on Monday expressed concerns about the liability and responsibility the city may be undertaking with the program, which was approved by aldermen last month.
The life vests would be in a kiosk being built by Boy Scout Josh Schaefer as his Eagle project. The kiosk would be installed next to marina control building, where the vests would be easily accessible to boaters.
The purpose of the program is to provide vests for boaters who don’t have enough of the safety devices for all their passengers, officials said.
Funding for the project will come through the Department of Natural Resources, and the DNR will also provide 32 life jackets for the station, Schaefer told the Common Council last month.
The life vest program started in Alaska in 1996, Schaefer said, and since then more than 2,100 life vest loaner stations have been installed throughout the U.S.
Although there have been concerns that people would take the vests and not return them, that hasn’t typically happened, officials said.
Instead, the number of vests available tends to grow as people donate the ones their children have outgrown, they said.
But commission members noted that the marina staff will be expected to maintain the kiosk and vests, checking them to make sure they are in order.
“Who’s going to be responsible for checking the straps?” commission member Tony Matera asked. “I’m not against this program. I just want to minimize the city’s liability. Now that you’ve got them, you have a duty to maintain them.
“I’d feel better if we had a better idea of our duties. I think the question is how we implement it. Is it going to add another 10 hours of work for the staff each week?”
Commission member Jerry Baganz said the panel supports the idea of the program.
“I think this is something we think is a good idea, but we don’t fully understand the responsibility we’re taking on,” he said.
Commission members questioned what would happen if the marina staff came in one morning and all the vests were missing.
“We call the DNR and have them get us more vests,” Harbormaster Dennis Cherny said.
Cherny agreed that the contract with the DNR should be reviewed by the city attorney to check on liability questions and the city’s responsibilities.
However, he said, the program is valuable and workable for the marina.
“I don’t see it as a big problem,” he said. “Certainly we can do it. I think we should do it.”
The marina staff will also be tasked with checking the availability of life rings and ladders on the breakwater when they are installed, Cherny said. This task can be conducted largely by sight, he said, with staff using binoculars to make sure the rings are on their stands and the ladders are intact.
Matera suggested that instead of the kiosk the marina could buy a couple life vests to loan to boaters in need and store them inside the marina office, eliminating much of the possibility of vandalism and damage to the equipment.
Ald. Dave Larson, a commission member, said that when the Common Council approved the program, he thought the DNR would carry the bulk of the responsibility for maintaining the vests, not the marina.
He said he will and mention the commission’s concerns to other aldermen and may bring the matter back to the Common Council for reconsideration at its July 16 meeting.
Cherny said he will check with other marinas that have implemented the program to see what the community’s responsibility actually is and how onerous it is.