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Port Washington

Decision on marina changes put on hold PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 21 December 2016 20:58

Port officials postpone considering new options for operating facility, job of harbormaster until Jan. 3


Plans to have the Port Washington Harbor Commission and Common Council discuss in closed session changing the way the marina is operated and the job of the harbormaster were abruptly cancelled this week.

City Administrator Mark Grams said the topic will probably be on the Tuesday, Jan. 3, Common Council agenda.

Harbor Commission members will likely be invited to the session to participate in the discussion, Grams said, since they will not have a meeting before that date.

Both the Harbor Commission and Common Council had been scheduled to discuss the topic in closed sessions and cited on their agendas as an exemption to the open meetings law that allows closed session discussions of personnel matters.

But after Ozaukee Press objected to the closed session, Grams said the decision was made to delay the discussion since the wording on the agendas did not allow it to be considered in open session.

The Jan. 3 discussion will be held in open session, he said.

Officials have said the potential changes to the marina operation are prompted by the fact the facility has lost money for the past two years and, despite a robust summer season, is expected to lose money again this year.

Grams told the Harbor Commission on Monday that the marina is expected to be $25,000 to $30,000 in the red by the end of the year. 

The commission also reviewed audit reports from the last 14 years, which showed that while the facility had maintained a surplus for many years, it has had a couple of rough years recently.

Commission Chairman Gerald Gruen Jr. noted that a contingency fund was to have been established during profitable years so that when unforeseen expenses and shortfalls arose the marina would have money to address them.

“When we were prosperous, we thought there are going to be issues ahead and we need to have some cash set aside,” Gruen said.

That could have helped the marina through recent issues, such as the unexpected $75,000 cost of repairing a leak in the fuel tanks in 2014.

There is such a fund, Grams said, and it has about $154,000 in it — significantly less than the $374,000 that was in the account in 2011.

Unless things turn around, he added, “It’s not going to be long until that is down to zero.”

The Common Council has always stressed the need for the marina to pay its way, he added.

During budget talks this year, the Finance and License Committee and some aldermen brought the issue up, suggesting it may be time for changes in the operation of the marina to save money.

Ald. Bill Driscoll, a member of both the Harbor Commission and Finance and License Committee, said the time to act is now.

“If you lose money for 10 years and have to close down, people are going to ask, ‘Why didn’t you see thing coming and do something?’” he said. “Somewhere along the line, we have to ask, ‘How many years do we have to lose money before something has to be done?’”

But Gruen suggested the city look at expenses other than personnel to trim the marina costs.

“There are a lot of ways we can cut expenses. It doesn’t have to be employees,” he said. “This marina has made money almost every year.”

A few bad years, he added, aren’t a reason to panic, especially since the reasons were largely out of the city’s control — cold weather, poor fishing and the leaky fuel tanks.

Dick Laske, who has a boat in the marina, concurred.

“If you make the harbormaster a part-time function, the quality of the marina could suffer,” he said. “I don’t understand the logic of that.”

Allen Edmonds sale not expected to impact jobs at local factory PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Jaeger   
Wednesday, 14 December 2016 19:17

Port shoemaker purchased for $255 million by parent company of Famous Footwear

It was announced Tuesday that Allen Edmonds Shoe Corp., the Port Washington-based maker of high-end footwear, has been purchased by Caleres Inc. for $225 million in cash and revolving credit.

The transaction was completed Tuesday afternoon, and employees were informed later that day.

Company officials assured its workers, including 750 in the U.S. — including about 450 in Port Washington — and about 300 overseas, that their jobs would be retained.

New faces assured in Port elections PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 07 December 2016 20:31

Decisions of town supervisor, city alderman not to seek additional terms open door for changes in spring 

The Port Washington Town Board and the Port Washington Common Council will each have at least one new official next year.

Ald. Kevin Rudser has filed non-candidacy papers for his 5th District seat.

“I just don’t have enough hours in the day,” he said, especially with an active young family.

Rudser, who represents the city’s 5th District, has been an alderman since 2013.

Jonathan Pleitner, who on Tuesday was named to the Parks and Recreation Board, has taken out nomination papers for the seat, City Clerk Susan Westerbeke said.

Developer poised to buy land for subdivision PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Wednesday, 30 November 2016 18:42

Firm’s purchase of 227 acres on Port’s south side for Cedar Vineyard project expected to be done by end of year

Tom Swarthout, president of the Highview Group, said Tuesday he will complete the purchase of 227 acres on Port Washington’s far southeast side for the proposed Cedar Vineyard development by the new year.

“We’ll be closing before the end of the year,” Swarthout said. “It’s all coming together. We’re just wrapping up the final details.”

Swarthout said the engineering for the subdivision is virtually completed, his contractor has given him preliminary budget numbers that fall into line with his estimates and his financing is in place.

The Highview Group is purchasing 227 acres off Highway C, land once slated for  a high-intensity subdivision by the VK Development. The developer plans to create 82 half-acre lots on the land, with a vineyard planned along Highway C and a winery created on the west side of Highway C south of Stonecroft Drive.

A 101-acre nature preserve will also be created that encompasses Cedar Gorge and roughly 150 feet of land along the Lake Michigan bluff. This property will be acquired by the Highview Group and within minutes sold to the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, which has received grants to cover the $2 million purchase price.

“It’s a very unique project,” Land Trust Executive Director Tom Stolp said. “It’s an exciting project, unique in terms of the land that will be preserved, and we’re really excited to be part of this.”

The project will be a significant acquisition of sensitive land as well as the bluff, Stolp said, and will be the largest conservation development the Land Trust has been involved with.

Stolp said Swarthout met with the Land Trust recently to update them on the status of the project.

“It’s all on a good timeline,” he said. “Everything’s on track.”

While Swarthout had originally hoped to buy the land and begin work on the subdivision by now, he said that a variety of issues have slowed the development.

Many are paperwork issues, Swarthout said, as well as work lining up financing.

“There’s certainly a higher bar today in lending than there was 10 years ago,” he said. “Vacant land is very challenging to get funding for. Lending institutions were really burned in the downturn, so they’re really cautious.”

There’s also been a significant amount of coordination between the partners in the project, including the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust, Ozaukee County, the City of Port, investors and lenders, Swarthout said.

“Everything has to close at once to qualify for the grant money, and that creates angst with some of the lawyers,” he said. 

Port Washington Mayor Tom Mlada said developers often project a quicker timeline than is practical.

“I think it’s about getting things done, and getting them done right,” Mlada said. “And that takes time.”

He noted that the Port Harbour Lights condominium development in downtown took close to three years before work on the project began — “and that was a project just between the developer and the city. This project has many more moving parts.”

It’s been frustrating to drive by the site without being able to put a shovel in the ground yet, Swarthout admitted.

But he said that plans are in place to begin work on utilities for the site “right after the first of the year.”

“We’re trying to get a jump start on the spring,” Swarthout said. “You’re going to see a lot of action over the next several months.”

By late spring or early summer, he said, construction will start on several model homes in the subdivision. 

“We think it’s important to set a standard for the subdivision,” Swarthout said. “We expect these homes not to be big, ostentatious houses. 

“We don’t necessarily want big. We want right-sized houses. Something that’s classic. I think everyone should have the freedom to build their own home, but you want individual homes that fit the perspective of the site, especially when they back up to the lake or gorge.”

Architectural guidelines and covenants for the subdivision are already in place, Swarthout noted.

Prospective homeowners have already reserved 14 lots in the subdivision, he said.

“I think there have been at least 10 reservations that are almost a year old,” he said. “We’re excited they see the value in the project and are willing to wait for it.”

Swarthout said that work on the winery and vineyard will also begin in earnest next year. That work, he added, is determining much of the timeline for the project.

“We have to order our vines by the end of December,” he said. “And we have to be able to plant by no later than the end of June — that’s what’s driving the schedule.”

The first vines will be planted on the north end of the subdivision, he said, and to accomplish this, an extensive drainage system will be put in place.

That’s because grapevines like drainage, and the soil on the property is largely hard-packed clay — good for building houses, but in need of work to grow grapes, Swarthout said.
It will be a while before wine is available from the grapes grown on the property, he added.

“It takes three years to get fruit and two years in the barrel,” Swarthout said. 

But the winery, which will be built using pieces of several old barns the company has acquired, will be built on the property next year, he said.

The winery and vineyard will be run by Steve and Maria Johnson, who own Parallel 44 Vineyard and Winery in Kewaunee and Door 44 Winery in Sturgeon Bay.

Senior housing project sparks protests PDF Print E-mail
Written by Kristyn Halbig Ziehm   
Tuesday, 22 November 2016 21:14

Plan to build three-story apartment building on Port’s west side has subdivision residents voicing concerns

About 30 people crowded into Port Washington City Hall last week to protest a senior living apartment building proposed to be built off Highway 33 on the city’s west side.

The residents of the Hidden Hills Subdivision said they feared the three-story apartment building would loom over their houses, eliminating privacy and creating a loss in property values.

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