A Blues Factory property bombshell

Brewpub announces plans for tavern, restaurant, banquet hall, offices on Port’s most controversial lot

THE PARKING LOT at the north end of the north slip, across Washington Street from condominiums recently developed, was once slated as the home of the Blues Factory. But last week, Inventors Brewpub owner Adam Draeger announced plans to build a 25,000-square-foot facility on the site that would allow him to expand his restaurant and brewery while adding an event space and 8,500-square feet of office space. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
Ozaukee Press staff

The owner of Inventors Brewpub in Port Washington announced Friday that he plans to build a 25,000-square-foot, two-story building that would include not only a brewery and restaurant but an event space and offices on the north slip parcel once earmarked for the Blues Factory — one of the most controversial developments proposed for the city.

The new building would include a 2,000-square-foot, 10-barrel craft brewery, a 3,200-square-foot restaurant with indoor seating for 160 people and outdoor seating for 80, Inventors owner Adam Draeger said.

There would be a 250-seat event space with another 100 seats on the mezzanine above, as well as bride and groom rooms that could double as green rooms for performance groups, he said.

The building would also have 8,500-square feet of office space on the second floor, he noted.

The building, which is being designed by Striegel-Agacki Studio of Wauwatosa, is expected to add about $5 million to the city’s tax base, Draeger said.

Construction is expected to begin in late spring or early summer, with the opening slated for spring 2023, he added.

Officials contacted by Ozaukee Press have largely embraced the plan, saying they want to see an established business remain in the city and expand to become more successful.

“I think it’s pretty awesome that Adam and Inventors is able to stay in Port and grow and do some pretty neat things,” Mayor Ted Neitzke said. “The thing I’m most happy about is keeping a local business. I think he could go anywhere.

“Adam’s vision of making that a destination for music, for weddings, for events, transforms that part of Port Washington.”

The city, he noted, decided to sell that parcel of land for development years ago and hasn’t made any effort since to buy it back.

“That ship has sailed,” he said of the decision to sell the property for development.

The city’s Design Review Board is slated to look at plans for the new Inventors at its 4 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 11, meeting. The matter will likely then be forwarded to the Plan Commission for review on Jan. 20.

Draeger, whose Inventors Brewpub is located in the Van Ells-Schanen American Legion Hall about three blocks north of the new location, said that after five years in business, he wants to expand his operations in the City of Port.

Right now, he said, he can only brew two kegs at a time, and it takes three weeks to make a batch. 

“Sometimes a batch is gone in 48 hours,” he noted, adding the new facility will allow him to have a 10-barrel operation. He can then keep his flagship beers on tap and also sell his beers at other businesses.

The new building will also allow him to host events, something that’s difficult right now because of the limited space, Draeger said. Right now, he has to close the brewpub to host events, and that upsets his other customers so he tells people that they won’t have exclusive use of the facility.

And, he noted, he can only have 80 people in the brewpub comfortably — 110 if they’re packed in — and about 100 outside.

“This is us taking control of our fate,” Draeger said. “We think it will be a better location. We want to say yes to people, and now we’ve been saying no to a lot of people.”

To expand at the Legion hall, he said, would take a significant infusion of money. The Legion isn’t willing to spend that money, nor is he unless he has a long-term lease — he’s currently operating with a year-to-year lease.

Draeger said he wants to remain in downtown Port.

“We really want to be part of the downtown community and to keep participating in events here,” he said.

The only way to do that is to move, and the Blues Factory site is the best place for it, Draeger said, noting he and property owner Gertjan van den Broek had talked about the possibility for some time.

“The city sold the (Blues Factory) land to Gertjan’s investment group with the assumption this would be an event space, a restaurant space,’ Draeger said.

The multiple uses will make the business viable, he said, noting an event space alone wouldn’t likely survive. The offices, restaurant and brewpub are keys to success, he said, adding he plans to hire someone with  experience in managing events and catering to help run the operation. 

Draeger said the building will fill a void in the downtown left when Smith Bros. restaurant and the former Newport Shores restaurant closed — Smith Bros.’s Viking Room was the site of wedding receptions, graduation parties and large events, while NewPort Shores hosted numerous concerts.

The building, he said, will  have outdoor seating on the south side, along the north slip, and an outdoor space on the east side. The second floor, he added, will extend over that outdoor space, offering protection from the weather.

Draeger said he hopes people will look past the controversy that stalked the Blues Factory proposal.

“I want to look forward to Inventors 2.0,” he said. “I don’t want to look backward at the drama of that. If we can’t move into that spot, we can’t grow..”

Van den Broek said his TBF Development group, which owns the land, will be a partner in the development. He said it hasn’t been determined yet whether the group will sell the land to Draeger, lease it or partner with the company.

“We don’t really care,” he said. “It’s all about what’s going to make this project a success.”

The group bought the property because it agreed with the city’s decision to sell it for development, van den Broek said, and this is a good proposal.

“You have to give people a reason to come downtown. This is one more reason,” he said.

Van den Broek said the $1 million in incentives approved for the Blues Factory would apply to the Inventors proposal, saying it is tied to the property, not the project. 

City Administrator Tony Brown said he believes this is the case if the project meets the requirements outlined in the developers agreements, but said he based this opinion on a cursory reading of the documents. Bob Harris, the city’s director of planning and development, said the proposal meets the zoning for the parcel and the use is allowed by right. 

Because of that, he said, there’s little the city could do to stop the plan, even if officials want to.

Neitzke concurred, saying he doesn’t know of any way to stop the plan.

“All we can do is shape it,” he said.

Harris said, the design is likely to be tweaked as it goes through the city’s approval process.

“I think it’s a fairly attractive building,” he said, noting the architecture is different than the Blues Factory design. “This definitely has a more modern touch, but you get the classical symmetry. I don’t see any major changes coming.”

The design, he said, is closer to the classic downtown Port look than the modern feeling of the nearby Newport Shores building, but it still has clean lines.

The building, Harris added, is a “good mixed use in a good location as opposed to what is there now. These are in-demand uses that will fill a need in downtown, or at least a want.”

The city approved the Blues Factory for the site, Ald. Mike Gasper said, and “this sounds like the Blues Factory. It’s the same concept, it just sounds like they replaced the blues museum with a brewpub.”

Gasper said he “still would prefer that it stayed public land,” but that’s no longer an option. The focus now, he added, is ensuring the development there is the best it can be.

“Seeing as this is a local business that’s well liked, it’s going to make it easier for people to accept,” he said. “I think everybody wants to see him be successful.”

Ald. Paul Neumyer said that while some people may continue to be upset at the loss of the parking lot, “I don’t want to lose a good local business. The city can’t stay static.”

When it approved the Blues Factory years ago, he added, the city gave the go-ahead to development of the site.

“The concept of building on the property has been approved by the city already,” Neumyer said.

Ald. Pat Tearney said that while he doesn’t believe the city should have sold the property to van den Broek, “Now it’s done. Gertjan owns it. I think we have to look hard at any development proposals for that land.

“I don’t have a hard and fast feeling on it yet. But I don’t want to see the city in a position where it discourages a business from expanding.”  

While some people have said they believe that any change in plans for the property will nullify the previous approvals, Tearney said he doesn’t believe that’s the case. 

Several officials said that while not everyone is going to be happy with the plan, they hope that this proposal isn’t as controversial as the Blues Factory was.

“I certainly hope the controversy has abated,” Ald. Jonathan Pleitner said. “What I like about this is it’s a local business. It’s about creating an established downtown.”

He also noted that the site is “an underutilized parking lot.” While parking is a concern near the lakefront, Pleitner said, Inventors is likely to attract business at times when the fishermen aren’t using up spaces in the area.  

Although some people believe the site should become a park, he noted that the city has a number of lakefront parks in the area, including Coal Dock, Rotary, Veterans Memorial and Upper Lake parks.

“To me, this is a better use,” he said.

The fact that Inventors is an established business should make people more comfortable with the plan, Neitzke said, adding the city made the decision to develop that parcel years ago.

“This is an emotional issue for many people,” he said. “In three years, I hope this is such a focal point in downtown that people embrace it.”


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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