PRESS EDITORIAL: The people spoke. Was anyone listening?

The final chapter of the Blues Factory saga is still being written, but how it will end is now obvious: A large commercial building housing an entertainment attraction will be built on lakefront land that was once owned by the citizens of Port Washington and was sold to a developer against the wishes of many of them.

The attraction is not named the Blues Factory, but it will fill the open space at the edge of the north slip of the marina in much the same way as that controversial development would have, with a two-story, 25,000 square-foot building, featuring an architectural design reminiscent of a factory, containing a brewpub, restaurant, event space and offices. It will be called Inventors Brewpub, but some wry observers have already tagged it the Brews Factory.

The Port Washington residents who have been voicing their opposition to commercial development of the once-public land for the past six years had no particular objection to the Blues Factory itself, a blues music-themed entertainment venue, and it is safe to assume they have no aversion to brewpubs either. Their point was and is that nothing that blocks lake views should be built on the site that was in the public domain and should still be.

That hope is now forlorn, but let’s at least unwind some of the cosmetic spin that is being applied to make the use of the site for a business building look like a marvelous benefit to city taxpayers.

The plan for the glorified brewpub is being hailed by some city officials as salvation from the imminent threat of a local business leaving town.

Inventors Brewpub has been doing business for several years in rented space in the American Legion clubhouse on Lake Street and has been a welcome addition to Port Washington. It has added to the community’s appeal as an enjoyable place to live or visit, and the offerings from its microbrewery and kitchen have been quite popular. But the notion floated at City Hall that owner Adam Draeger was set to abandon Port Washington for another community if the Blues Factory site had not been available is a dubious justification that is more convenient than credible.

There are other downtown sites available for an expanded brewpub. The north slip site was chosen because it suits the landowner, Gertjan van den Broek, who will be an investor in the brewpub.

Then there is the effort on social media and elsewhere to paint the opposition to developing the site as naive locals obsessed with parking. The north slip land has been a modest-sized parking lot for a long time, but just about everyone understands that parking is not its best use. Opposition to development of the lot is not about parking cars there; it’s about parking a large commercial building forever on lakefront land.

Ald. Mike Gasper struck a realistic note in comments on the brewpub development when he said it “sounds like the Blues Factory.” He added that he would “prefer that it stayed public land,” but noted that is no longer an option.

For his part, Mayor Ted Neitzke was, to put it mildly, a bit more enthusiastic, saying, “I think it’s pretty awesome that Adam and Investors are able to stay in Port and grow and do some pretty neat things.”

If anything is awe inspiring about the Blues Factory experience, albeit in a negative sense, it is the way a passionate and determined citizens’ outcry was ignored and ultimately defeated.

Residents fought the sale of the publicly owned land at the harbor for commercial development with assemblies at City Hall so large they overwhelmed meeting rooms, with petitions, yard signs, letters to this newspaper, an overwhelmingly negative referendum vote and ultimately with their votes in elections that removed aldermen who were the most prominent Blues Factory backers from office.

And yet, contrary to all principles of representative government, they lost. The land was sold to the developer for a bargain price with $1 million in taxpayer-funded incentives to build the Blues Factory thrown in.     

Getting back to the mayor’s comment, there is actually something “neat” about the ending of the Blues Factory story. It closes the circle in an ironically neat fashion. The story began, before the Blues Factory was imagined, with the half-baked conception of previous elected officials that it would be a really neat idea to sell the north slip as the site for, yes, a brewpub.         It seems the last word on this has to be—Prosit!


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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
(262) 284-3494


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