Port aldermen voice enthusiasm for lakefront project that calls for Paramount museum, entertainment complex
The Port Washington Common Council greeted plans for a Paramount blues-themed entertainment complex on the waterfront with enthusiasm last week, saying the proposal meets every goal officials have set for the city-owned property.
Ald. Doug Biggs, noting the city is expected to seek proposals from developers for the property on the north end of the north slip, said the Blues Factory concept “really sets a high bar for the process, and for anyone else who might be interested in that space.”
Aldermen were enthused about the fact the concept includes a museum, restaurant, entertainment venue and banquet facility.
“Frankly, I think it’s about time,” Ald. Bill Driscoll said, noting a banquet facility is sorely needed in the city. “I like this.”
Ald. Mike Ehrlich said, “I really like the idea. It touches on Port’s history, a part of Port’s history that many residents don’t know about. It’s a rich history.”
“It would fit well with our community,” Ald Dan Becker said. “I love the historical tie. I love the concept.”
To facilitate the sale of the city-owned parking lot, aldermen agreed to spend $1,600 to conduct a phase one environmental assessment of the parking lot and to obtain an appraisal of the property.
The city is expected to seek proposals to develop the land next month.
The Blues Factory concept is the brainchild of Christopher Long of Madison, president and CEO of the Blues Factory, who is working in partnership with Port Washington developer Gertjan van den Broek.
Long, a blues aficionado, said the story of the Wisconsin Chair Co. and Paramount Records has a worldwide following that needs to be commemorated.
The Blues Factory would capitalize on that, providing a destination for tourists and residents alike, Long said, adding that in addition to regular concerts the facility would host an outdoor music festival in summer.
The Blues Factory would primarily sponsor blues and jazz performances — which could be recorded in the performance hall — and focus on emerging artists, Long said.
Long said that before he came to Port Washington, he knew only that the city is home to Allen Edmonds and Paramount Records.
When he first visited, he said, he looked for a monument to the Paramount Records and the Chair Co. and was astonished there wasn’t one.
“The purpose of the Blues Factory is simple, to preserve and celebrate the remarkable story of Paramount Records and the Wisconsin Chair Co.,” Long told the Common Council Feb. 18.
Long said he came up with the idea of the Blues Factory before the city decided to sell the parking lot and was looking at other sites. But, he said, when the city made its controversial decision to seek development proposals for the parking lot, everything fell into place for him.
That’s because the city-owned parking lot is the former home of the chair company, he said, adding he plans to submit a development proposal to the city.
Long said he would like to open the Blues Factory in 2017, noting it is the centennial of the founding of Paramount Records.
The Paramount story is one of a true American art form, as well as one of business and commerce, of technology struggling to find its place in the marketplace and of music, Long said.
The two-story building, which is being designed by the Cedarburg firm of Kubala Washatko Architects, would take up the entire parking lot, he said.
The four aspects of the building — the museum, restaurant, performance space and banquet hall — would incorporate separate but interconnected spaces that could be used alone or in concert with one another, he said.
For example, someone could rent the banquet facility, have their event catered by the restaurant and include a performance in the entertainment hall, he said.
Long said he plans two rounds of equity funding for the project — an initial private offering followed by a direct public offering under Wisconsin’s new crowdfunding laws. This, he said, would allow the community to take ownership of the facility.
Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development, called the proposal “something pretty extraordinary.”
“It’s something that could only go in Port Washington,” he said.
The proposal also meets the city’s goals for the parking lot, Mayor Tom Mlada said. It is in line with the city’s master redevelopment plan, includes a sustainable business and makes efficient use of the lakefront space, is a destination that would bring people and business to downtown and help spur further development.
“It really does check every one of those boxes,” Mlada said.