Lakefront building to be razed under threat of lawsuit

Owners of Port Harbor Center say they will demolish long-vacant grocery to comply with city mandate
Ozaukee Press staff

The owners of the Port Harbor Center, facing a raze or repair order from the City of Port Washington, said Tuesday they will tear down the former grocery store in the lakefront strip mall and plan a new residential development on the site after the Blues Factory is built on adjoining property. Jim Vollmar, who with Don Voigt and their wives own the building, said Tuesday that the owners on March 1 signed a contract to tear down the long vacant grocery store at the north end of the center.

But despite the fact the city gave them an April 5 deadline to repair or raze the building or face a lawsuit, Vollmar said the work can’t be done immediately,. 

That’s because they need to get Department of Natural Resources approval for remediation work on the site. The owners have hired Kapur & Associates to handle the remediation, he said.

Soil borings done last year showed that the building was constructed on rubble from the Wisconsin Chair Co., Vollmar noted.

Vollmar said he had sent the city a copy of the raze contract as a response to the raze or repair order issued by Building Inspector Gary Peterson.

The Common Council, which met in closed session Tuesday to discuss the matter, made a motion to have staff members follow up to ensure the order is enforced.

“The building needs to come down,” Ald. Dave Larson said. 

The owners have said they will tear down the structure, he said, “but we don’t have any documentation of that.”

If the work can’t be done by the April 5 deadline, Larson said, “They can make a case for that if they need an extension.”

The former grocery store at the north end of the Port Harbor Center has been vacant for years, prompting complaints from officials and the public.

Last spring, Peterson issued a raze or repair order for the building, noting issues that ranged from broken windows to spalling bricks to serious deterioration of the roof.

Vollmar said that the owners took care of all the safety issues except for the roof repairs as they explored potential development of the former grocery.

“We did everything necessary to prepare for demolition,” he added, such as removing the electrical and gas services from the building. 

At the same time, Vollmar said, they got an estimate for demolition, which they planned to do along with their development. That, Vollmar said, would allow them to roll the cost of demolition into the project financing.

In November, they rolled out their plan to convert the former grocery store into a 10-unit condominium development. That plan was lauded by officials, who praised its design and the use. 

To accommodate the plan, the city facilitated talks between the Port Harbor Center owners and Gertjan van den Broek, who is developing the neighboring Blues Factory entertainment center on the north slip marina parking lot aimed at widening the alley between the buildings.

But they were unable to negotiate a wide enough alley to ensure lake views for all the condominiums, Vollmar said.

“We discovered we were going to have a 35-foot brick wall (the side of the Blues Factory) 30 feet away from our building,” he said. 

While the condominiums would all have lake views from their decks, Vollmar said, “every unit but two would have a view of that brick wall from their living room.”

That, he said, was key to the owners decision to drop their project for now.

They could have redesigned the condominiums, Vollmar said, but instead of incurring the cost now, the owners decided to wait until the Blues Factory is built and design around that building.

“The city didn’t want to wait,” he said, prompting the raze or repair order.

But, he added, the owners are committed to a development on the site.

“We will design it to fit the space after the Blues Factory is built,” he said.

Razing the building is “quite expensive,” Vollmar noted.

“We would have liked to have done it as part of a building process. Now, it will be an independent project at great expense to us,” he said.

He doesn’t have a timeline for the work, he said, in part because of the need for the DNR to sign off on it but the owners hope to have the work done by Pirate Fest in June.



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