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.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 18 February 2015 18:46
Port council wants needs assessment to help determine fate of facility that some officials want closed
Port Washington aldermen were expected on Wednesday to hire a company to conduct a needs assessment that will help determine the fate of the senior center.
Two companies have submitted proposals to conduct the study, which is expected to cost $13,000.
The need for the study became apparent when officials said the city will no longer provide a senior center facility when the lease to the current building expires in two years, but it will continue to offer services for older adults.
Even as the city takes the initial steps to eliminate the senior center, some seniors are letting officials know how important the facility is to them.
“I just want to express my happiness at having a senior center,” Bev Schleg, 1102 N. Stanford St., told the Common Council Feb. 3. “I like the trips. I go to exercise class there. I’m a member of the Chicks with Sticks.
“All the friends I have made there — I would be lost without my senior center.”
The needs assessment, which is expected to gather information on what services seniors want from the city, is expected to poll people of all ages.
The Commission on Aging has recommended the city hire MSA Professional Services to conduct the assessment, which will include everything from the results of a senior services survey to a listing of senior services offered by other groups in the area.
A summary of potential courses of action for the city will also be offered, along with the advantages, disadvantages and general feasibility of each.
MSA estimated it will complete its report in July.
The Common Council agreed earlier this year to spend as much as $6,000 on the assessment, supplementing a $3,000 contribution from the Senior Center, $4,500 from the Friends of the Senior Center and $500 from the Green Felt Club.
The needs assessment will help officials determine what senior services are needed in the future as they grapple with the question of what the senior center will look like in the years to come.
Officials have said a number of seniors are dissatisfied with the current center building on Foster Street, saying the parking is inconvenient and there are too many steps in the building.
The Commission on Aging last year created an ad hoc committee to look at the center’s needs and plan for the future knowing that the current center isn’t necessarily a long-term home for the facility.
“We need to gather evidence to help guide our decision,” Senior Center Director Catherine Kiener said earlier this year, noting the center is a quality-of-life issue for residents. “Hopefully this will draw everything together, the past and present and bring us into the future.”