Council’s resolve on Blues Factory shows cracks Print
Wednesday, 04 October 2017 18:02

With costly seawall fix for controversial lakefront project looming, schism between aldermen becomes clear

    Divisions among Port Washington aldermen sprang into clear focus Tuesday as the Common Council discussed cost estimates for repairing the north slip sheetwall and making amendments to the city’s agreements for the Blues Factory development.
    Ultimately, the Common Council voted 4-2 to proceed with an angular driven tieback system to repair the sheetwall and ensure its stability, a process expected to cost between $70,000 and $145,000.
    Aldermen also approved amendments to the Blues Factory Inc.’s agreement to purchase and developer’s agreement to reflect a new closing date of Jan. 18 for the north marina slip parking lot.
    The amendments, also approved by a 4-2 vote, also change many of the dates in the agreements to reflect the new closing date and ensure the city’s cost for the sheetwall repairs will be capped at $85,000.
    Aldermen took a total of five votes on the issues, with virtually every one ending in a 4-2 vote with aldermen John Sigwart and Mike Gasper — two of the newest aldermen — voting on one side of the issue and the other aldermen — Mike Ehrlich, Paul Neumyer, Jonathan Pleitner and Dave Larson — voting the other way.
    The votes included a motion to do nothing to the sheetwall but observe it, to delay a decision on the proposed sheetwall repair until the council’s Oct. 17 meeting, to adding a clause in the agreements declaring the Blues Factory would waive any riparian rights over the lakefront, despite the fact City Attorney Eric Eberhardt said that it has no rights over the lakefront.
    The most spirited debate swirled around the sheetwall repairs, something the city has grappled with for months after determining that many of the structural supports for the wall — the tiebacks that hold the wall in place and the deadmen that anchor the tiebacks — were either missing or deficient and the wall had started to bow.
    After engineers for the Blues Factory declined to have new supports tied into the foundation of the building, the city looked into several alternative ways to anchor the sheetwall, ultimately deciding Tuesday to go with a completely new system of supports.
    The alternative, which is less expensive — $50,000 to $120,000 — was to incorporate the existing tiebacks and deadmen that are intact into the new system.
    Sigwart argued that the city should negotiate with the Blues Factory to see if it could tie the supports into the building foundation, saying the potential savings could be significant.
    In the alternative, he said, the city should do nothing and observe the sheetwall for six months or so. If there are no changes to the structure, he said, the city should consider not doing anything to the supports.
    “That strikes me as an effort to kill the development,” Mayor Tom Mlada said, noting that the developer wants to move up the purchase of the property, not delay it.
    No matter what, the city needs to ensure the sheetwall is secure before the lot is developed, Mlada added, noting that numerous city panels have agreed that developing the parking lot is the best option for the community.
    Other officials noted that the city can’t ignore the fact there is an issue with the sheetwall. If nothing else, they said, it increases the city’s liability if something were to occur.
    “Now that we know this, it’s hard to un-know it,” Eberhardt said.”Whether you have a parking lot or a park or a blues factory, you know about this.”
    Gasper also argued that the developer should pay the cost of the work, saying it is only needed because of the development.
    “It seems like the need to fix the wall is entirely based on the development,” Gasper said. “This is on top of the discounted price for selling the land and the million-dollar incentive. It’s like the deal keeps getting worse for the city.”
    Mlada argued that using the land for parking is a worse deal, saying development will bring in tax revenue while bringing business to downtown and spurring other development in the area.
    “I think we have a great deal in place,” he said.
    Gasper also questioned the design of the building, especially what he called a “monolithic wall” facing Washington Street, and then asked if developer Gertjan van den Broek is pulling a “bait and switch” that would ultimately result in condominiums, not the planned entertainment complex, being built on the site.
    Van den Broek and his attorney, Bruce McIlnay, noted that their agreement with the city calls for a specific use —the Blues Factory, a Paramount Records-based entertainment complex with a restaurant, performance space and banquet hall.
    The museum previously planned will now be incorporated into  the entire building, not just a portion of the facility, they added.
    At that point, Larson called for the debate to end and a vote to be held.
    The city had received two estimates for the sheetwall repair systems, but now needs to obtain bids for the work. However, before that can be done, it must engineer the repair work.
    Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said he may ask the city to hire Miller Engineers and Scientists to do the engineering work, something he said could likely be done in three weeks.
    After that, the city would need to bid the project.
    The city’s agreement with the Blues Factory limits the city’s cost for the work to $85,000, with the Blues Factory picking up any extra cost.  
     The revised offer to purchase calls for the Blues Factory to buy the parking lot for $250,000 by Jan. 18 — the previous deadline was Feb. 28.
    While the previous agreement would have allowed the Blues Factory to use its developer’s incentive to pay for the land, the amended agreement calls for the purchase to be funded privately.
    Receiving cash for the land will provide the city with the funds to fix the sheetwall, officials said.
     If the Blues Factory doesn’t move ahead, the city has the option of buying back the parking lot for the purchase price with the total discounted by any excess amount paid for the sheetwall work.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 October 2017 18:04