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Let zero hour mark the end of a lakefront mistake PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ozaukee Press   
Wednesday, 10 January 2018 16:50

Zero hour arrives next week.
    The deadline for the sale of public land for the Blues Factory is Thursday, Jan. 18.
    If the sale goes through, it is almost certain that a two-story brick structure designed to look like a factory but housing an entertainment business will be built at the edge of the harbor.
    It is also certain that before the first brick is laid, almost all of the elected city officials who are responsible for this affront to the lakefront will be out of office. They will be gone, but the Blues Factory will be their legacy to the people of Port Washington.
    It will be an unwanted legacy. The development is viewed so negatively by the public that two Common Council members who supported it were defeated by landslide votes last year in elections driven by the Blues Factory issue.
    Shortly after being named council president, another supporter of the development resigned his aldermanic position, and in December two other proponents, Ald. Dave Larson and Mayor Tom Mlada, announced they are not seeking re-election. If the Blues Factory is built, it will likely define their service to the city.
    That is unfortunate. Mlada and Larson and the others did some good work during their tenures—and there is no question that, right or wrong, they wanted the best for Port Washington—but their Blues Factory mistake threatens to relegate those accomplishments to footnotes on their record.
    Even as zero hour approaches, however, it may not be too late to change that. It would be an act of civic responsibility and a graceful coda to their public service for the mayor and the alderman to reverse course and with the support of the council ask the designated buyer of the Blues Factory site to refrain from exercising the purchase agreement.
    It would be a similar act of civic responsibility for developer Gertjan van den Broek to honor that request. Van den Broek has demonstrated his faith in the future of his adopted hometown with his development of the Harbour Lights condominium and retail building and has been generous with his time and energy on behalf of the Business Improvement District. It would seem out of character for the businessman who was once named Port Washington citizen of the year to force an unwanted development on the community.
    When it comes to the Blues Factory, “force” is the operative word. Unlike other marina district development, there is no market demand for the blues music-themed complex; the risky project exists on the cusp of becoming a reality only because the city government forced it there.
    When proposals for commercial development of the site were sought, there was only a single response, that from Madison area blues aficionado Christopher Long. Though Long exhibited a passionate commitment to the project, lenders were skeptical and he had to abandon it for lack of financing. The Blues Factory should have died a natural death at that point.
    But city officials wouldn’t let it die, and it has lived on zombielike thanks to ascending taxpayer incentives and serial deadline extensions that eventually persuaded van den Broek to agree to take over the project.
    Even the site, the parking lot at the north end of the marina, has to be forced into a condition that can accommodate the development. The taxpayers are on the hook to spend roughly $100,000 to shore up the property for the building and pay to meet other requirements, all so that land owned by the taxpayers can be made fit to be sold for half of its appraised value.
    The pernicious effect of the development is being felt even before the land is sold. Officials recently approved a building height higher than city norms for condos to be built across the street from the site expressly so that buyers of the units could see water views over the Blues Factory.         
    Crowding the Blues Factory onto the site is now seen as an impediment to a handsomely designed residential building planned for an adjacent property. And anyone who is not in a particularly obtuse state of denial can see that the Blues Factory will result in parking and traffic gridlock that will adversely impact other development in the marina district and the marina itself.
    The fundamental objection that has fueled years of opposition to the Blues Factory remains that it will block lake views that are treasured elements of the city’s nautical charm. That this will be inflicted on the lakefront by a structure designed to resemble the factory buildings that once blighted the harbor area exacerbates the damage.
    In recognition of the public’s disdain for the development and city government changes indicating that the Blues Factory proposal would be voted down if it were considered by the Common Council that will be seated after the April election, next week’s zero hour should not be the moment the land is sold for the development.
    Rather, it should be the moment the mayor, the aldermen and the developer do the right thing for Port Washington.

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