Council wants plaza to be part of public art plan

Aldermen like gathering space proposal but urge Port Main Street to incorporate it in larger initiative
Ozaukee Press staff

The Port Washington Common Council last week approved the idea of creating a public plaza with a sculpture and fire feature at the far east end of East Main Street in downtown, but aldermen urged Port Main Street Inc., which is shepherding the project, to work with local sculptor C.T. Whitehouse, who is working on a public art proposal for the community.

“Let’s use all the resources we have in town,”  Ald. Mike Ehrlich said. “Is the fire pit the right idea? I don’t know. I like the idea of this as a gathering space, not just something to look at.

“I think this is a great start and I support it.”

“I’d like to see whether or not this is the highest and best use for this property,” Ald. John Sigwart said. “I don’t think there’s any need to rush into this.”

If the Blues Factory is constructed on the north end of the north slip, he said, a public area there may be more appropriate for a heating element while the Main Street location may be better suited to a “more dynamic” artistic feature.

Whitehouse told aldermen he supports the idea of the plaza as a gathering site, adding, “I’m not sure a fire pit is the way to go. It could work, maybe not as a centerpiece. I’m not saying it’s not a good idea but there are other things to be considered.

“Being such an important site, it’s important we choose wisely what goes in there. This project will set a precedent for future projects around the city. It’s key to do a good job.”

Whitehouse said the city needs a cohesive public art plan so “we don’t end up with a hodgepodge of art.”

“Through public art we can make a strong statement about Port Washington, its past, present and future,” he said, adding his concept is art that would tell the story of the city. 

A public art program could not only improve the aesthetics in the city but also promote business and tourism, he said.

Whitehouse, who said he’s working on a formal proposal for his public art program and expects to present it to the city in January, asked to be part of the plaza planning process “to help that area be the best it can be.” 

Kyle Knop, 507 Catulpa St., urged the council to delay a decision on the plaza plan until Whitehouse’s proposal is presented, saying, “A decision like this you should not take casually. One major question seems not to be addressed — is this the best we can do for this key location, and can we reach higher?”

The idea of creating a plaza at the east end of Main Street dates back to at least 2014, when the parking lot behind Duluth Trading Company was reconfigured, Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said.

Nothing came to fruition, he said, because the city didn’t have a design or funding, so Port Main Street Inc. took ownership of the concept.

Last month, Port Main Street proposed creating the gathering space, which would have as its centerpiece a metal artist’s interpretation of hawks swirling in what is known as kettling, with a fire element in the center.

The sculpture would be about six feet tall on an 18-inch base, and the fire element would be controlled via a timer that would allow anyone to turn the fire on for a set period of time, perhaps 10 minutes.

There would also be fixed and movable seating, shade structures and landscaping, which would allow the plaza to function as an entertainment space where art exhibits, bands and even plays could be staged, as well as a place where passers-by stop to take in the sights.

Initial cost estimated for the plaza are between $187,228 and $344,100, funds Port Main Street Inc. has said it would raise. Two donors have already stepped forward to pledge $10,000 each.

The project could be a good project for a Coastal Management grant, Vanden Noven said.

“I think there’s some enthusiasm they’ve been able to generate,” he said. “It’s generally been well received.”


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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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