Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 30 June 2010 17:13
Commission says firm’s proposal to use alternative materials would damage building rather than restore it
The Port Washington Plan Commission last week rejected a proposal by Port Harbor Investments to use different materials than those previously approved to repair the former M&I Bank building on Franklin Street in downtown Port.
Commission members said the materials proposed by the firm would not match the facade of the existing building and would cause additional damage to the structure.
“This process is actually harmful to the building,” commission member Bud Sova said. “The materials don’t match the masonry, and they are not materials conducive to that application in a historic building.”
The city has been trying to get the firm to repair the former bank for several years, since early renovation attempts left the building in shambles.
The city repeatedly tried to get the owners to fix the building. Last fall, officials called it an eyesore and safety hazard and filed a lawsuit hoping to force the firm to repair the structure.
The investment firm recently signed a stipulation agreeing to, among other things, fix the building facade with materials approved by the Plan Commission by July 16.
Randy Tetzlaff, the city’s director of planning and development, said the firm wanted to use injected molded polymer brick panels on the parapet wall instead of the reinforced fiberglass resin originally approved for the work.
“They’re looking for a short-term, less-expensive solution,” Tetzlaff said, noting the firm’s ultimate goal is to raze the building.
Tetzlaff said he talked to architects and design professionals on the city’s Design Review Board and the Port Washington Main Street design committee, and none of them believed the proposed materials should be allowed.
Instead, Tetzlaff said, they recommended 12-by-24-inch white exterior tiles be used for the work.
“The opinion is that this is not a suitable material,” he said. “There are other reasonable alternatives.”
“I think they’re trying to play down the middle of the road. That’s not where we want to be,” commission member Ron Voigt said. “I think they fix it up or they tear it down.”
Mayor Scott Huebner, the commission chairman, expressed frustration with the situation. When the firm purchased the building in late 2007 and talked to city officials and residents about their plans, he said, they promised a quality project.
“One of the principals even said he’d sell his house if it didn’t make the city better,” Huebner said. “Now they’re coming back and trying to put cheap plastic materials on a historic building.
“What they originally said and what they’re trying to do are complete opposites.”
Representatives of Port Harbor Investments could not be reached for comment.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 23 June 2010 18:08
Commission will review TIF proposal calling for $2.3 million in projects, including improvements to parking lots, coal dock
A host of downtown infrastructure improvements — everything from revamped parking lots and alleys to the conversion of Harborview Lane to a pedestrian way — will be discussed by the Port Washington Plan Commission Thursday, June 24.
The improvements, as well as proposed developer incentives, are among the projects in a tax-incremental financing plan that will be reviewed during a 6:30 p.m. public hearing.
“We’re trying to make it a more friendly downtown, especially with the changes to the parking lots to improve traffic flow and the alleys to improve pedestrian movement,” City Administrator Mark Grams said.
“By making the downtown more attractive, hopefully we’ll attract more businesses there.”
The work will also demonstrate the city’s desire to see the downtown redeveloped, officials said.
The projects were scheduled to be reviewed for the first time on Wednesday by the TIF Joint Review Board, which is primarily made up of representatives of the various governmental units affected by the district.
The proposed district, which would contain properties valued at more than $13 million, would zigzag through the heart of downtown and include a number of vacant buildings that officials have said are ripe for redevelopment.
When these buildings are redeveloped, the increased property taxes would be used to pay for the estimated $2.3 million in public improvements included in the plan. The money must be repaid within 27 years.
“This will give us the opportunity to do these project without putting the burden on the taxpayers,” Grams said.
Among the expenditures and projects included in the proposed TIF plan are:
- $90,000 for improvements to the coal dock.
- $450,000 in improvements to downtown parking lots, including significant changes to the lot behind Smith Bros. Marketplace.
- $40,000 for alley improvements, most of which are aimed at making it easier for people to get from Franklin Street to the lakefront.
- $20,000 for downtown signs.
- $750,000 in developer incentives.
- Officials have said the incentives are needed to attract businesses to the larger vacant buildings downtown.
- $390,000 for street improvements, including the changes to Harborview Lane near the north-slip marina — a project that officials said will provide a landscaped walkwayleading from downtown to the stairs that lead to the historic Light Station atop St. Mary’s Hill — the creation of a cul-de-sac at the end of South Milwaukee Street and elimination of the cul-de-sac at the east end of East Main Street.
A few of the TIF projects could be undertaken as soon as next year, Grams said, such as streetscaping and leveling of sidewalks on East Grand Avenue.
“Most of the big projects would be done in 2012 or later,” Grams said, including the conversion of Harborview Lane and improvements to the parking lot behind Smith Bros. Marketplace.
The TIF district is an important aspect of the city’s downtown redevelopment strategy, he said, but it’s not the only piece of the puzzle.
The economy, which has stifled development throughout the country, will play a major part, Grams said.
“Everything’s still tied into the economy,” he said.
Franklin Energy’s move to downtown will also help with redevelopment efforts, he said. The growing firm will move into the second floor of the Smith Bros. Marketplace building, bringing a significant influx of employees to the downtown.
“You’ll have more workers downtown generating more traffic for the stores there,” Grams said. “Hopefully, other businesses will come downtown with this added traffic.
“Will it happen overnight? Probably not. But in the long term, with the improvements we’re making, hopefully we can make a difference.”
Following Thursday’s public hearing at City Hall, the Plan Commission is expected to make a recommendation on the TIF district borders and plans to the Common Council.
Aldermen are expected to take up the matter when they meet on Tuesday, July 6. The Joint Review Board must then approve the borders and plans before they are submitted to the state for final approval.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 16 June 2010 18:28
Port’s decision to relocate stormwater facility near Hwy. LL not likely to delay long-awaited project
With little discussion Tuesday, Port Washington aldermen agreed to move a planned stormwater detention pond that will be built as part of the long-awaited Highway 33 reconstruction.
Fears that the change in plans for the highway would delay the project may not come to fruition, Public Works Director Rob Vanden Noven said.
“I’ve talked to the designer, who is determined to let nothing stop the schedule,” Vanden Noven said, adding he was meeting with officials on Wednesday to discuss the project and its schedule. “It’s certainly possible to keep it on schedule, and we intend to do so.”
The reason, he said, is that the city made a quick decision in the matter.
City officials took a second look at the detention pond planned for the former Kolbach farm at the southwest corner of highways LL and 33 after learning it would not alleviate flooding in the area, especially near Second Avenue.
A study done by the engineering firm Bonestroo and reviewed by aldermen Tuesday revealed showed the planned pond would not handle the water from a two-year storm.
That is the biggest reason the city should move the pond to an area south of the Aurora medical Clinic on the southeast corner of the interchange, Ald. Tom Hudson said.
Building a 19-acre regional stormwater detention pond there, and doing some minor grading, would mean the facility could handle even a 100-year storm, according to the study.
“If we can fix it, let’s do so,” Hudson said, noting flooding problems have plagued area residents for years.
Matthew Bednarski, an engineer with Bonestroo, said that moving the pond will also help the city meet Department of Natural Resources water quality standards in 2013.
It would also allow the city to abandon the current dry stormwater pond in the Bley Park subdivision, Bednarski said, creating as many as two residential lots that could be sold.
The cost of the new pond was estimated at $535,000, Bednarski said. As much as $135,000 of that could be covered by a state grant, he said.
In addition, because it would create a regional stormwater pond, the city could assess future developers for part of the cost, Bednarski said.
He recommended the city negotiate with the Department of Transportation to ensure funds planned for the current pond would be transferred to the new facility.
The former Kolbach farm would lie fallow under the new plan, Vanden Noven told the council, noting that the state has restricted access to the property.
“It can’t be developed for anything,” he said.
The plan will, however, allow the city to keep a stand of woods that separates the Bley Park subdivision from Highway 33, something that’s important to residents there, Vanden Noven said.
The Highway 33 project, which runs from Tower Drive in Port Washington to just east of Highway W in Saukville, involves replacing the existing two-lane road with a four-lane divided highway, complete with turn lanes, curb and gutter, sidewalks, bike lanes, landscaping and lighting.
Three roundabouts are planned for the road. Two of them will be in Saukville, at Northwoods Road and Market Street. The third will be at the Highway LL interchange in Port.
Plans call for utility work to begin this fall and road construction next spring.
Written by KRISTYN HALBIG ZIEHM
Wednesday, 09 June 2010 21:15
Port council agrees to provide firm with $125,000 to prepare for Franklin Energy
The City of Port Washington will loan Lighthouse Development $125,000 to renovate the Smith Bros. Marketplace building to accommodate Franklin Energy, which is moving its headquarters from the former St. John’s Church to downtown.
Aldermen last week unanimously approved the revolving fund loan to LDC-728, an offshoot of Lighthouse Development that will use the money to buy equipment, fixtures and furnishings and help finance capital expenses.
Although it’s good to see the firm preparing the second floor of the building for a tenant, Ald. Tom Hudson expressed frustration at the length of time that the building, which most people consider a gateway to downtown, has been largely vacant.
“This is all well and good, but I’ve been an alderman for almost 10 years and this thing’s been vacant almost the whole time I’ve been alderman,” Hudson said.
“Is this something they’re actively going to work on or is it just going to sit empty?”
Tom DeMuth, a partner in Lighthouse Development, replied, “I can assure you we’ve been looking for a tenant quite aggressively.”
The company has had as many as 30 restaurants looking at the first floor of the building, he said, but hasn’t found a tenant yet.
“You don’t think you might be priced too high?” Hudson asked.
Lighthouse has offered potential tenants “significant incentives” to lease the space, but none has taken the firm up on its offer, DeMuth said.
Tuesday’s loan agreement is the second time the Common Council has taken action in recent months to ensure Franklin Energy moves its operations downtown.
Last month, the city agreed to lease the firm’s current building on Foster Street and relocate the senior center there. The city will have the option to buy the former church after three years.
Franklin Energy’s move to the top floor of Smith Bros. Marketplace at the corner of Franklin Street and Grand Avenue is seen by many officials as a way to spur development in the downtown district by bringing more people to the area.
A report on the revolving loan prepared by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission stated that the Smith Bros. Marketplace building has not operated at a profit for the past three years. The structure has been vacant except for a coffeehouse on a corner of the first floor.
With the lease to Franklin Energy, the building should make a profit next year, the report states.
Lighthouse’s loan from the city would be matched by at least $200,000 in bank financing, the report states, adding that the firm is also considering applying for a $50,000 revolving loan from Ozaukee County.
The city’s loan would be secured with a third mortgage on the building if a pending appraisal is for at least $2.45 million, City Administrator Mark Grams said. If the appraisal isn’t that high, Lighthouse will put up another of its developments that has at least $150,000 in equity.
“There is a long list of properties they can offer up,” Mayor Scott Huebner said.
In return, Franklin Energy guarantees that at least seven new full-time jobs will be added, and most of these jobs will be recruited through the Workforce Development Center, the report states.
Kathleen Cady Schilling, executive director of the county’s economic development corporation, told the council that the firm will be moving 32 jobs to the building, 18 of them new positions.
If Franklin Energy does not meet its obligation to provide these new jobs, Lighthouse will pay a penalty, Huebner said.
The loan will be at 1.625% interest. The term of the loan will match the bank financing Lighthouse is seeking, officials said.
Ald. Burt Babcock questioned why Lighthouse is seeking the loan.
“At one time, I thought that Franklin Energy was going to do the work and use local contractors,” he said.
DeMuth said the building lease calls for Lighthouse to do the work using local firms.