Movers and shakers of Port Washington once preached that the city was condemned to slow growth because its unfortunate place on the Lake Michigan shore prevented it from developing to the east.
No kidding. We’re not making this up.
Fast forward a few decades to 2016 and you will have trouble finding anyone in Port Washington who doesn’t think that concept of the lake effect was utter nonsense.
Today everyone gets it that the city’s place on the littoral of a Great Lake is a gift that is driving the city’s robust economic development.
The downtown is full of people, including smiling merchants and restaurateurs. Fnishing touches are being put on the $7.5 million Harbour Lights condo development overlooking the harbor that will bring new residents, a restaurant and retail business to town. Meanwhile, plans are in the works for multiple millions of dollars’ worth of residential and commercial investment in the marina district and along the lake bluff. Credit the new lake effect for all of it.
City elected officials, led by Mayor Tom Mlada, deserve credit for pushing three public initiatives that have further empowered the lake effect. Outstanding among these has been making Port Washington the part-time home port of the tall ship Denis Sullivan, Wisconsin’s flagship.
The green-hulled, 137-foot recreation of a 19th century Great Lakes schooner brought visitors to town, gave them and many residents the experience of sailing on the rolling seas of Lake Michigan and was a perfect complement to the downtown’s maritime atmosphere.
The sight of the Sullivan in her berth, banners snapping in the breeze on masts towering over the lakefront, her 40-foot bowsprit soaring over the water of the harbor, surely printed on the minds of all who saw her an image that proclaimed: This is a seafaring town.
Some public funds were spent on the Sullivan visits, as were sizable contributions from the Port Washington Tourism Council, the Business Improvement District and several business sponsors. In all cases, it was money well spent.
The challenge now is to keep the tall ship coming to Port in the future. It’s a costly proposition; however, it is one that pays off not only in city promotion, but in the fact that the tall ship’s presence has renewed the commercial-port status of the harbor, which has opened the door to federal funding for harbor improvements.
Thanks to that funding, as well as some grants, another of the those lake-related city initiatives, the north breakwater, is no longer merely a protective arm of the harbor, but has been rebuilt as a safe and easy-to-use attraction for visitors who crave proximity to the lake.
The breakwater leads to the third initiative, the historic pierhead lighthouse that is the city’s most recognizable icon, the symbol that defines the community’s relationship with the water. With the federal government intent on divesting the structure, it was imperative that the city acquire it, and with the mayor again leading the way, that has been accomplished.
These efforts propelled by the city government have in common that they all add to the public’s visual and physical access to the lake.
Which leads to the question: How can city officials who support these initiatives justify carrying on their campaign to force an unpopular, financially risky commercial development called the Blues Factory onto public land at the edge of the downtown harbor?
The Blues Factory entertainment complex, a graceless factorylike building whose brick walls would block lake views, has no place on a lakefront admired for its nautical beauty.
Perhaps answering the following question would help the mayor and aldermen understand that their insistence on this development counteracts the good they have achieved in enriching Port Washington’s lake effect:
What word or pair of words in this list doesn’t belong in the same group?
• Tall ship
• Blues Factory
The question is a variation of a standard IQ test question, but it doesn’t take a genius to get the correct answer.