Petition drive fails, brewpub on marina lot set to proceed

Organizers garnered only half the signatures they needed to force referendum on bonding for city subsidy

IT SEEMS LIKE it will be smooth sailing for the proposed Inventors Brewpub on Port Washington’s north marina slip, shown here in a rendering by Striegel Agacki Studio.
Ozaukee Press Staff

A petition drive seeking to force a binding referendum on a publicly funded developer’s incentive for the proposed Inventors Brewpub fell short of its goal, so the City of Port Washington is moving ahead with an $853,000 bonding for the project.

“At this point, we’ll move forward with the bonding,” City Administrator Tony Brown said Tuesday.

The referendum would have only affected the city’s ability to issue bonds for the developer subsidy, and the Common Council took steps recently to ensure the city could acquire the money in a different way — through borrowing — if it had to. Bonding is the preferred financing option because it is less costly.

Although there are a few approvals still required, the way has essentially been cleared for the development of the parking lot on Washington Street at the north end of the north slip portion of the marina, a property that has been at the heart of a bitter, yearslong controversy sparked by the city’s decision in 2015 to sell the land to Madison developer Chris Long and his business partner Gertjan van den Broek for $250,000.

The referendum sought by organizers of the petition drive, which garnered only about 300 of the 619 signatures needed by a March 17 deadline to force a vote, acknowledged that a referendum would not stop the brewpub development, but said it would have — and to some extent did — send a message to city officials, Amy Otis-Wilborn, one of the organizers, said.

People in the community are concerned about development along the lakeshore and in downtown, Otis-Wilborn said.

“It showed there is a lot of concern, and their concerns continue to be TIF (tax incremental financing), future development in downtown, traffic, parking and the height of downtown buildings — all the things the Common Council doesn’t seem to be addressing,” she said. “People are concerned about what other development projects are planned.” 

The group plans to get together in the coming weeks to catalog its concerns and determine what their next step will be to ensure they have input on any future developments, she said.

Getting the required signatures was a difficult task, she said, noting organizers only had 30 days to collect the needed signatures and the fact the city had another option in place to get the money for the incentive.

“There’s only so much one can do about this particular project,” Otis-Wilborn said. 

The incentive that the bonding will provide was agreed to by the city years ago when the Blues Factory was proposed to be built on the parking lot where the brewpub is now expected to be built.

Because both the Blues Factory and the Inventors project will be built by the same entity, van den Broek’s TBF Development, the terms of a developer’s agreement that included the incentive are still in effect, officials said.

In the meantime, the Inventors project will move ahead. The bonding is one of the last things the city needs to act on for the project, Brown said. 

The Plan Commission is expected to act on a building, site and operations plan for the project when it meets April 21, the last of the major city approvals needed, he noted.

If the city receives a $250,000 Community Development Investment grant from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. for the project, aldermen will also need to approve a developer’s agreement that will include the conditions under which the money can be drawn from the city and require that TBF hire an independent auditor to meet state requirements.

The city is expected to submit the application for the grant this week, Brown said.

He said van den Broek and Inventors owner Adam Draeger originally hoped to break ground on the brewpub in April, but “I don’t know if they’re still on track to do so.”

The proposed 25,000-square-foot, two-story Inventors Brewpub would include a 9,000-square-foot brewery, bar and restaurant, a 3,750-square-foot entertainment space and 9,000 square feet of office space as well as a balcony area that could be used as a small event space or an extension of the main event space. 


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