Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Tuesday, 26 November 2013 19:28
Business district agrees to provide $55,000 for downtown group but wants to know how annual funds will be spent
The Port Washington Business Improvement District board last week approved a 2014 operating plan that continues funding for Port Main Street Inc, but with closer oversight by the BID.
“Our budget is Main Street’s budget,” President Neil Tiziani said, noting the plan calls for the BID to provide $55,000 for Main Street. “We’re not trying to meddle in your affairs. We’re not trying to dictate how you use the funds. We want to understand where the funds are going.
“We would like to play a supporting role. This, in fact, is a partnership. We’re all part of the same district. I think we can help each other. ”
But the money doesn’t come without conditions that Main Street must meet to receive the money, which will be dispersed in quarterly installments, the board agreed.
First and foremost, Main Street must maintain its agreement with the state and remain a Main Street community, members said.
“That state program is something we believe is important,” Tiziani said, especially the four subcommittees that direct much of Main Street’s actions and the volunteers who comprise them. “There are great things coming from those subcommittees.”
BID board member Brian Barber concurred, saying, “There’s no way we could replicate the amazing job Main Street has done with all the events.”
State Main Street officials agree that Port has a good program and has done great things for the community, he added.
Main Street needs to create an annual budget and strategic plan to be reviewed by the BID board by Dec. 1, the board agreed, and it must have a plan to make up for its $5,000 deficit in that budget.
“We want to make sure by the end of 2014 there is no more deficit,” Tiziani said. “I think we can do that without much difficulty. There are a lot of ways for us to get $5,000.”
Main Street must have a recruitment committee to recruit a new director in place by Dec. 1 — something Main Street officers said has already been done— and give the BID board a copy of the job description and compensation package.
BID members will be able to ask questions about the position and provide feedback, but will not play an active role in the selection or hiring process, the board agreed.
“That’s going to be the most important thing you do in the next year,” BID board member Ross Leinweber said.
The Main Street board is expected to play an active role in the group’s committees during the job search and continue this role after the new director is hired, the BID board agreed. At least one board member should serve on each subcommittee.
Each quarter, a member of one of the four subcommittees will give a report to the BID board on the group’s actions and plans.
One member of the Main Street board — it can be Scott Huebner, who is a BID board member — and the new director should present current and accurate financial statements to the BID board each month, along with progress reports, updates on volunteers and fundraising efforts, compliance with state Main Street requirements and reports on the committees and their efforts.
They will also present any funding requests, complete with information on how the money will be used and the expected benefit.
Each quarter, the BID and Main Street board should meet to discuss performance, expectations and other matters.
Huebner, who was instrumental in starting the Main Street program five years ago, said these are basic rules that should have been put in place back then.
“I think this would have been great to have from the start,” he said, adding it would have prevented some of the distrust and problems that exist between the groups.
“The intent is communication,” added BID board member Gertjan van den Broek. “Many minds are better than fewer.”
Tiziani said the BID board will serve as a bridge between the city and Main Street, providing a line of communication that will help the downtown district grow and bring the city’s annual funding contribution back.
The city’s 2014 budget does not include the annual $25,000 contribution to Main Street. Instead, the money was earmarked for economic development. That doesn’t mean the funds won’t be available if there is an initiative both groups agree on, city officials said.
The intent of the operating plan is to move past the problems that have plagued Main Street this year, BID board members said.
“One thing we have to do is move on, and this will help with that,” BID board member Wayne Chrusciel said, adding the terms of the agreement are not unusual.
Main Street is important to the entire community, Huebner added.
“Main Street is bigger than downtown,” he said. “It affects the entire city.”
The Main Street operating plan, which will be considered by the Common Council Dec. 3, was approved 6-2, with Chrusciel and Mark Schowalter dissenting.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 20 November 2013 18:53
Port council approves $250,000 project that includes widening cluttered, unsightly path around sewage plant
Port Washington officials on Tuesday endorsed a plan to beautify the entrance to the city’s north beach and make it more accessible before next summer.
“I think this is something to get excited about,” Mayor Tom Mlada said. “We’re addressing things people have talked about for years.”
Ald. Mike Ehrlich agreed, calling the project “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
“I think this is a great project, one we need to embrace given the lake is such an asset for us,” he said.
For years, residents have complained about the fact they had to walk a narrow path around the wastewater treatment plant to get to the north beach.
While the city can’t realistically move the plant — something Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven estimated would cost $80 million — it can make the walk more pleasant, he said.
“A $250,000 investment could potentially make a world of difference,” he said, noting the money will come from the wastewater utility’s reserve funds.
The project calls for eliminating the gate east of the parking lot near the plant and relocating the fence north of the lot.
The city would eliminate the signs and existing chain-link and barbed-wire fencing near the harborwalk.
To widen the walkway, making it accessible to people in wheelchairs and families with strollers and wagons, the city would remove the existing fence and install a decorative fence closer to the plant, widening the path by about 10 feet.
The new path would be wide enough that police could drive a squad car onto the beach in case of an emergency, Vanden Noven said.
The existing western walkway would become a secondary entrance to the beach to be used if the east path is blocked. An ornamental gate would help mark the entrance to this walkway.
The Common Council agreed to hire the Milwaukee-based firm of Clark-Dietz Engineers, which will partner with SAA Design Group, to design the improvements for $26,400.
The contract calls for a design charrette, a one-on-one meeting with “stakeholders,” such as wastewater plant employees, emergency responders and beach-goers, to be held, as well as a public information meeting.
The project is expected to go out for bids by spring so work can be done before summer, Vanden Noven said.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 13 November 2013 19:17
Works committee endorses project that calls for removing fences, expanding walkways
Port Washington’s Board of Public Works on Tuesday endorsed a plan to improve access to the north beach by beautifying and expanding the walkways leading to it.
“We should try to make access to the beach something people will enjoy, not endure,” Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said. “We should invite people to the beach and highlight our walkway along the lake.
“The idea is to get a move on and ideally build this before next summer.”
The current east walkway doesn’t say “Welcome to the north beach,” he said, but instead declares, “This isn’t where I should be.”
The plan calls for making the east sidewalk around the wastewater plant the main entrance to the beach by removing much of the chain link-and-barbed wire fencing, widening the walkway by 10 feet and perhaps removing the lightpoles that currently punctuate the path.
The path would be wide enough that police could drive a squad car onto the beach in case of an emergency, Vanden Noven said.
To ensure security at the wastewater treatment plant, ornamental fencing would be used, primarily on the far east and north ends of the walkway, he added.
“I think removing the prison fence will change the perspective immediately,” board member Jason Wittek said.
A direct route from the parking lot to the walkway would also be created, making it easier for people to find the sidewalk, Vanden Noven said.
The mishmash of existing signs at the south end of the walkway also would be removed.
“What a great idea,” Ald. Mike Ehrlich, a member of the board, said. “Widening the path there so people don’t have to just squeeze by is a great idea.”
The existing western walkway, which is difficult to find and poorly identified, would become the secondary access, Vanden Noven said. The existing chain link-and-barbed wire fence would be moved and an ornamental gate added.
While many people have suggested that the city move the wastewater treatment plant off the lakefront, that’s cost prohibitive, Vanden Noven said, estimating the price tag at $80 million.
“For a fraction of that cost, we can maybe not disguise the plant but make it blend in better and improve access to the beach,” he said.
In 1992, when the plant was expanded, lake levels were high and there was virtually no sandy beach north of the facility, making access an afterthought at best, Vanden Noven said.
But today, there is a wide beach north of the plant. Although the city has worked to improve access to it, most recently building a public staircase from Upper Lake Park, none of the existing walkways is handicapped accessible.
“I think this is a great idea at a millifraction of the cost of moving the plant,” Mayor Tom Mlada told the board, adding the plan balances plant operations with public access to the beach. “The bang you get for your buck is profound.
“You can see the way this would be transformational. And to get it done before next summer would be huge.”
The city could tap the wastewater utility’s reserve fund for the estimated $250,000 needed for the project, Vanden Noven said.
That cost, however, does not include the cost of rebuilding a retaining wall that runs along the western path, nor the cost of painting a mural on the tanks at the treatment plant, he said.
The proposed changes would emphasize the lakefront while minimizing the effect of the wastewater treatment plant, Vanden Noven said. “This says this is a beach entrance that has access to a wastewater treatment plant (as a secondary purpose),” he said — not a plant that just happens to have a beach walkway around it.
The board recommended hiring the Milwaukee-based firm of Clark-Dietz Engineers for $26,400 to design the improvements — something the Common Council will consider when it meets Tuesday, Nov. 19.
Clark-Dietz would partner with SAA Design Group, which worked on Rotary Park, to do the work, Vanden Noven said.
The companies would consider not only the concept endorsed by the board but other designs as well, he said.
“These are just my ideas,” Vanden Noven said. “There may well be other, better ones out there.”
The contract calls for a design charrette, a one-on-one meeting with “stakeholders,” such as wastewater plant employees, emergency responders and beach-goers, to be held, as well as a public information meeting, Vanden Noven said.
According to a preliminary timetable, there would be a project kickoff meeting in early December. The design charrette could also be held in December.
Concept drawings and alternatives would be presented to the city in January, and the final project sent out for bids in February or March.
This isn’t the only measure the city would take to improve the waterfront next year.
Vanden Noven said the city plans to plant some low-growing sumacs and other plantings near the top of the bluff to screen the wastewater treatment plant from visitors parking in the lot above the facility.
Image Information: THE NARROW PATH that leads along the east side of the Port Washington wastewater treatment plant to the north beach could be replaced by a wider, more welcoming walkway by next summer if a recommendation by the Board of Public Works is approved by the Common Council next week.
Photo by Sam Arendt
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 06 November 2013 18:59
Downtown store, property owners voice frustration over deteriorating relationship between group, city
Downtown Port Washington business and property owners expressed their frustration with the deteriorating relationship between the city and Port Main Street Inc., an organization devoted to promoting the downtown, last week during a meeting intended to set goals for the group.
The city’s decision not to make its traditional $25,000 contribution to Main Street in response to what officials characterized as the mismanagement of money used to host the Rock the Harbor Harley-Davidson anniversary celebration in August.
“We had one bad event, but how about all the good ones?” asked Main Street board member Marcia Endicott, who said the city has treated the group “very poorly” in the wake of Rock the Harbor.
The festival lost roughly $20,000, but despite that fact, some people at the meeting called the event a success because it drew many people to the city and the businesses downtown.
Several of the roughly 50 business owners were so frustrated they said the Business Improvement District, which funds Main Street via an assessment on downtown properties, should be dissolved, effectively ending funding for Main Street. In its place, they said, a voluntary merchants’ association could be created to serve downtown.
“If we have a voluntary organization, we don’t have to have the city tell us what we’re doing,” said Jim Vollmar, an owner of the Port Harbor Center.
Vollmar said Monday that some property owners have circulated a petition to dissolve the BID, adding he believes there are enough signatures to file it with the city.
“There are a lot of business people who are angry,” he said.
A petition seeking to dissolve the BID must be signed by property owners whose buildings make up half the equalized valuation of the district — a figure Vollmar said is $17 million.
But Neil Tiziani, president of the BID board, said the organization is important to downtown.
“I think that (filing a petition) is a mistake,” he said. “The same people who signed the petition will be back in two or three years yelling at the city that we need to do something that will focus on downtown.
“A lot of progress has been made in the past two or three years. We don’t want to throw that away.”
Vollmar said business owners’ anger stems from city actions, starting this summer with Mayor Tom Mlada’s recommendation that the Main Street board give full voting rights to three ex-officio members.
At the Oct. 31 meeting, Vollmar took exception to many of the city’s actions, especially the fact that the Common Council on Tuesday approved the BID tax, which is imposed on downtown buildings, without having the organization’s operating plan for the coming year.
Vollmar advocated filing a petition to disband the BID, adding it could be withdrawn if the plan is something the business owners support, he said.
“The city’s got to understand they have to cooperate with us,” Vollmar said. “They can’t use our money the way they want to use it. We have to make sure it’s used correctly.”
The city needs to make its $25,000 contribution to Main Street if it wants to be a partner in the organization, he added.
“If the city won’t put $25,000 in, why should the building owners (finance it)?” Vollmar asked. “This is economic development for the city.”
City Administrator Mark Grams noted that the $25,000 is still in the proposed 2014 budget but no longer earmarked for Main Street. The city can still tap it for downtown projects, he said.
“I think what the council’s waiting for is to see what happens with Main Street and with BID,” Grams said. “Things have been running fairly smoothly over the last couple years. This year, we hit a bump. We’re trying to get through it.”
Vollmar also said the city needs to treat business owners better.
“We are owed an apology, then we can talk about whether to have a BID,” he said, citing the city’s criticism of the Main Street board in the aftermath of Rock the Harbor.
“Why would the city berate a bunch of volunteers who are trying to do something for the good of the city?” he asked. “That one bad event should not change everything.”
Not everyone agreed that dissolving the BID is an effective strategy.
John Weinrich, owner of NewPort Shores restaurant, suggested the BID could operate but not disperse funds until the organization has come up with a plan everyone could support.
“To make a decision on getting rid of the BID is probably not a good thing to do,” said Doug McManus, an owner of the building that houses Twisted Willow restaurant. “We’re used to paying that tax. Why not give it a year and let things settle down?
“There’s a lot of distrust right now.”
Members of the BID board, noting Main Street’s precarious financial position since Rock the Harbor, have said they would consider taking over the Main Street program while it gets its finances and goals in order.
“The intent would not be that BID would be Main Street forever,” said Wayne Chrusciel, owner of Fireworks Popcorn and a BID board member.
Tiziani said there is value in both groups and the board wants to preserve that.
“The BID we have now is interested in fixing the problems there are,” he said. “At the end of the day, there’s a lot of great things that have come from it.”
At Thursday’s meeting, the business and building owners came up with a list of five things they want the group to work on.
The top item was improved communications, followed by downtown events, beautification, improved website and a marketing and branding campaign.