Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 08 February 2012 19:20
Port council agrees to lend $40,000 to business owners who want to convert vacant building into art gallery, hall
The Port Washington Common Council on Tuesday agreed to lend Blue Heron Artisan’s Gallery LLC $40,000 from its revolving loan fund to help finance the purchase of the historic firehouse at the corner of Wisconsin and Pier streets.
The 20-year loan, which will help Betty and Jim Langford buy the building and renovate it as an art gallery and banquet hall, will have an interest rate of 1.625% interest, aldermen said.
In exchange for the loan, the couple agreed to create the equivalent of two full-time jobs, officials said.
The city agreed in December to sell the historic firehouse to the Langfords for $188,000. Although the sale was to be completed by the end of 2011, the couple ran into a financing glitch and the closing was delayed.
The council’s action Tuesday paves the way for the couple to complete the purchase.
Betty Langford told aldermen Tuesday that the couple plan to create an informal gallery on the main floor where artists would rent space.
“The idea is to support the artists so they would have a place to sell and display their art,” she said.
She has about 14 artists who are interested in the gallery, Langford said, adding the space could accommodate 80 artisans.
On the lower level, the couple plan to create a banquet hall.
There’s been a lot of interest in that space, Langford said. A music teacher is talking about renting space twice weekly, she said, and an exercise instructor is also looking to lease space.
The hall could also be rented for one-time events, including a shower planned for May, she said.
To help commemorate the building’s roots as the city’s firehouse, Langford said she will create an area to showcase the fire department and its history.
Langford said she plans to paint and install new floors in the building, which also needs a new furnace, attic insulation and upgrades to the electrical system.
“I think this is a great use for the building, and I think this will fit nicely in the fabric of downtown,” Ald. Mike Ehrlich said.
People often talk about the need for a space for the arts, Mayor Scott Huebner said, and this would help meet that need.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” he said.
The historic firehouse was last used as the city’s senior center. The center moved from the site to a new location in the former St. John’s Church on Foster Street last summer.
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV
Wednesday, 01 February 2012 19:06
Thirty-five-year-old faces first-degree assault, child porn charges after victim tells defendant’s mother of abuse
A 35-year-old Port Washington man has been charged with sexually assaulting a 4-year-old girl he was entrusted to watch and taking pornographic pictures of her.
James R. Esselman was charged last week in Ozaukee County Circuit Court with two counts of first-degree sexual assault of a child younger than 12 and five counts of possession of child pornography.
On Sunday, Jan. 22, Port Washington police launched an investigation that quickly led them to Esselman after a hospital reported the suspected sexual assault of the girl, Police Chief Kevin Hingiss said. Esselman was arrested the next day after police searched his home in the 200 block of W. Jackson Street.
According to the criminal complaint filed Wednesday, Jan. 25, Esselman’s mother told police that her son brought the girl to her home on Saturday, Jan. 21, so she could watch the child while Esselman ran errands.
Esselman, who met the girl’s mother through an Internet chat room five years ago, was apparently watching the girl, who is from Green Bay and was visiting Port Washington, according to authorities.
Esselman’s mother said she was clipping the girl’s fingernails when the girl said she and Esselman, whom she referred to as Jimmy, play “boy butt and girl butt,” the complaint states.
When Esselman’s mother asked the girl to explain, the girl moved her hands in such a way to suggest masturbation, according to the complaint.
The woman said that when she asked the child if she liked the game, the girl replied, “No. I cry. I don’t like that,” the complaint states.
Esselman’s mother said that when she confronted her son about molesting the girl, he said, “It only happened once,” the complaint states.
After the girl told Esselman’s mother about the assaults, she was taken back to her home in Green Bay, where she was examined at a hospital, Hingiss said.
Esselman told authorities he sexually assaulted the girl twice, beginning Friday, Nov. 4, according to the complaint.
Esselman said he and the girl, who was staying at his home, were lying on his bed watching a movie when he began to rub her back, then pulled down her pants. He said he had sexual intercourse with the girl, the complaint states.
Esselman told police the second assault happened about two weeks later after he picked up the girl and took her to his house, according to the complaint.
Esselman also admitted to taking several pornographic photos of the girl. His mother, who said she retrieved the pictures from her son’s home, turned the images over to police, the complaint states.
In all of the photos, the girl is wearing a diaper even though in at least some of the pictures she is clearly too old to be wearing diapers, according to the complaint. Some of the pictures show the girl posed on a pink blanket decorated with butterflies.
The girl was 4 years old during both assaults. She turned 5 last month.
During Esselman’s initial court appearance on Jan. 25, Assistant District Attorney Jeffrey Sisley asked that bail be set at $500,000. Judge Paul Malloy set bail at $100,000 and, in the event Esselman posts bail, ordered him not to have contact with the girl or her mother. The judge also ordered him not to have unsupervised contact with anyone younger than 18 and not to possess photographic equipment, including cell phone cameras.
Esselman, who will be represented by a public defender, remained in the Ozaukee County jail this week. He’s scheduled to appear in court for a status hearing on Feb. 6.
If convicted of the sexual assault charges, Esselman will be subject to a bifurcated, or two-part, sentence comprised of a prison sentence and extended supervision totalling a maximum of 60 years for each count. Because Esselman is older than 18, the prison term must be at least 25 years.
The possession of child pornography charges each carry a maximum 25-year sentence that must include at least three years in prison unless a judge determines a lesser sentence does not endanger the public. The crime also carries a maximum fine of $100,000 and a mandatory $500 surcharge.
Image Info: Photograph of James Esselman
Written by BILL SCHANEN IV
Wednesday, 25 January 2012 20:15
Authorities search for trio seen on property where blaze damaged building on Jan. 15
Ozaukee County authorities said this week they are searching for three people, possibly juveniles, in connection with a Jan. 15 fire that destroyed part of a replica frontier fort in the Town of Port Washington.
Lt. Rodney Galbraith of the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Department wouldn’t comment on specifics of the investigation but said what authorities have learned so far leads them to believe that three people were trespassing on the property, which is east of Highway LL just south of the I-43 overpass, around the time of the fire.
Noting there are no utilities, such as electricity or natural gas, on the property, Galbraith said authorities think the fire was set, although they are not sure whether it was accidentally or intentionally started.
“We believe these people may have information about the fire and may live in the area, know someone in the area or were visiting someone in the area,” Galbraith said, adding that the suspects probably walked to and from the property.
The fire was reported at 9:45 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 15, and was put out by the Port Washington Fire Department.
“We’re asking anyone with information to contact the sheriff’s department,” Galbraith said. “That was the night the Packers played (the New York Giants), which may help people remember something they saw that night.”
Daniel McFeters, the Fox Point resident who has spent 15 years creating and maintaining what he calls a “private living history facility” on the Town of Port Washington property he rents, estimated the fire caused $10,000 to $15,000 in damage and said several valuable antiques were destroyed.
“That’s $10,000 to $15,000 I don’t have,” he said.
McFeters’ fort is designed to depict life in colonial America and during the height of the Western fur trade. He opens the facility for school tours, he said.
“My love of history is why I’ve dedicated 15 years of time and money to this project,” he said.
McFeters said a log cabin that forms the cornerstone of the fort and part of the great hall were destroyed by the fire.
“I also lost a lot of valuable things in the cabin,” he said. “What kills me is the antique desk dating to 1836 that is gone.”
McFeters said this isn’t the first time there has been trouble on the property. Shortly before the fire, the cabin door and lock were damaged, as if someone tried to break in, he said.
Three years ago, there was a break-in, he said. Among the items stolen were an authentic Cheyenne headdress and homemade stand, sketches of American Indians and fur traders, black powder rifles, a .22 caliber rifle and a Davey Crockett lunch box, McFeters said.
“I intend to rebuild, although the process will be long and slow because this is all coming out of my pocket,” he said.
McFeters said he is offering a $500 reward for information that leads to the arrest and successful prosecution of the people responsible for the fire.
The Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Department Detective Bureau can be reached at 284-8468.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 18 January 2012 19:02
Port officials welcome proposed renovation of downtown building but skeptical about giving potential buyer more time
Port Washington businessman Gertjan van den Broek’s plan to buy and renovate the dilapidated former M&I Bank building in downtown Port ran head-first into officials’ frustrations with the current building owner Tuesday night.
The Common Council took no action on van den Broek’s 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 Broek’s 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.
“That, to me, is unacceptable,” Mayor Scott Huebner said of the new closing date. “This situation keeps perpetuating. It has to end.”
Ald. Dan Becker said the city needs assurance that changes will occur.
“This city does not need to go through another tourist season with the building in disrepair,” Becker said.
“This body cannot keep moving forward on what-ifs and maybes. We need something concrete.”
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.
“My biggest concern is to have this other property owner have the building until May. They’re a wild card,” Ehrlich said. “If I’m going to do this (postpone the raze order), I want Gertjan to own the building.”
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 hasn’t 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 Broek’s 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 Broek’s 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 city’s problems with the firm.
“It’s not Gertjan who caused all this angst,” Ald. Joe Dean said. “I 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.”
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 isn’t consummated, Dean added.
“This is a whole new group,” Ald. Burt Babcock said. “If the city tried to work with him, it might possibly happen.”
Although van den Broek was out of town and could not be at Tuesday’s council meeting, McIlnay told aldermen that he is committed to the project.
“He is working diligently to put financing in place,” McIlnay said, especially for the interior renovations, which may be done in stages.
Aldermen also expressed frustration Tuesday with van den Broek’s timeline, which doesn’t 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.
“Show us what you’ve been working on,” Becker said. “I don’t care if 11 of (the dozen plans van den Broek said he had considered) are junk. Show us what you have in mind.”
Van den Broek’s architect Jim Read told aldermen that they spent the summer working on potential plans.
“We can’t put them in front of you until we know we can finance them. We can’t get financing with a raze order,” Read said, calling the situation a Catch 22.
“Now, we’re talking three months.”
The facade repairs are relatively minor, he said, telling aldermen that eight pieces of terra cotta are missing from the building.
“That’s not much,” Read said, adding that once the building is torn down the city will never get another historic structure in its place.
“It’s a wonderful building,” he said. “It means a lot to the city.”
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.