PRESS EDITORIAL: It’s time to say goodbye to the Blues Factory

From a civic outrage to a civic embarrassment. So goes the arc of the Blues Factory. 

When it was first foisted on the community by elected officials, the commercial building planned for a site overlooking the harbor was seen by many Port Washington residents as an outrageous misuse of public lakefront land. Nearly three years later, it is widely viewed as a fiasco that is making the city look foolish.

Next week, the Common Council is expected to vote on a revised developer’s agreement that eliminates the deadline for the start of construction. The change was authorized on a motion by Ald. Dave Larson, who did not run for re-election, at his last council meeting on April 4. Deadlines in the agreement have twice been extended earlier. The last one expired on Feb. 28, 2018.

When the agreement was signed in 2016, it was hailed by city officials as an iron-clad document that would protect the taxpayers’ investment of $1 million in developer incentives. Since then it has been revealed as an elastic instrument that can be changed as needed to keep a dubious project alive.

This does not inspire confidence that other requirements in the agreement concerning financing, a restaurant tenant for the building and the city’s right to buy back the land will be enforced if the developer does not comply.

The time is right for Port Washington to put an end to this tiresome misadventure. The current elected city government is not the one that was in place when the Blues Factory proposal was embraced so eagerly by the mayor and Common Council. A majority of the aldermen who will meet next week were not members of the council when the agreement was approved. The newly elected mayor who will preside over this meeting is on record as saying the Blues Factory is a mistake.

The meeting will be an opportunity for a majority of the council to signal a fresh outlook and renewed commitment to progressive governance by refusing to approve the rewritten agreement and putting in motion the withdrawal of the city from the project.

The negative effects of the development on public lake views and access, marina district parking and lakefront aesthetics have been enumerated chapter and verse by citizens and this editorial page, but the Blues Factory proposal stands as its own indictment.

It was promoted by its backers as a catalyst needed to stimulate lakefront development, but the Blues Factory has languished as a side show that can’t get going while three other marina district projects have overtaken it with approvals and financing in place and in one case construction already underway. 

It is telling that these are market driven developments—business ventures undertaken in response to demand—unlike the Blues Factory, which in the absence of demand has required generous support from the city to exist even as a concept.

Now even the concept seems to be wobbling. The plan that the original developer (who later dropped the project for lack of financing) sold the city on was for an entertainment complex designed as a tribute to the Paramount record operation that was once part of the Wisconsin Chair Co. and would include a museum, performance hall and a store selling Paramount related items. Those features have disappeared from the plan and trial balloons released by the new developer suggest that if the project somehow comes to fruition it will be more like a generic restaurant and banquet hall.

So much for the preaching by its backers that the historical nature of the development justified putting it on public harbor land that was once occupied by a chair company factory before it was razed as a lakefront blight. The modified iteration of the project could be built anywhere.

On Tuesday, April 17, four of the seven members of the Common Council can start the process of releasing the city from a controversial commitment that has divided the community and threatens to sully the beauty of the city’s unique heart-of-the-city marina with a factorylike building at the edge of the water.

Their vote against ratifying the amended Blues Factory agreement to accommodate the developer would be a tonic for a community weary of the relentless effort to prop up a project that is wrong for the lakefront. And it could set the stage for freeing the city, as well as the developer, to pursue new initiatives that would contribute to a bright new era for Port Washington.


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Ozaukee Press

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.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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