City clears way for sale of downtown Exploreum

Council OKs license, easement but Historical Society official says deal with bar owner is far from done


Ozaukee Press staff

Two measures that clear the way for sale of the Port Exploreum building in downtown Port Washington were approved Tuesday by the Common Council.

Aldermen approved a license agreement that gives the Port Washington Historical Society, which owns the building at 118 N. Franklin St., the right to maintain improvements it made in the alley just south of the Exploreum.

They also agreed to an easement allowing the Historical Society to use a 10-by-20-foot strip of land just east of the building for its patio and the balcony above.

Although the council’s actions were prompted by an expected sale of the building to Schooner Pub owner William Schwalbe later this month, Historical Society President Nancy Holley said that isn’t likely to occur.

“It does not appear we are going to close by the end of November. Interest rates have gone up, things have happened,” she said, adding that the Society is once again listing the property.

But, she said, the license agreement and easement are needed no matter what.

“This paperwork is necessary if we’re going to sell to anyone,” Holley said.

When the building is sold, she said, the easement and license agreement will be transferred to the new owner.

City Attorney Eric Eberhardt told aldermen that the license agreement was approved in 2012, allowing the Historical Society to add a handicapped accessible ramp, fire escape, stone retaining wall, basement emergency exit and landscape planters.

However, he said, neither the city nor the Society could locate the agreement, so a new one is needed.

“I know it was approved,” he said.

The original agreement was for a term of 99 years but the new pact is for 50 years, he said. It will automatically renew for five-year terms after that unless the city terminates the license if it needs the property for a public use.

The easement, he noted, is granted in perpetuity.

The Historical Society announced in March that it would close the Exploreum and sell or lease the building, saying the interactive museum failed to reach its potential and generate enough income to come close to covering its expenses.

The building, which was constructed in 1907, was purchased by the Society in 2012 and renovated with more than $3 million in donations.

The Exploreum’s budget shortfall ranged from $38,535 in 2021 to $129,010 in 2018, the Society’s officers said, adding revenues peaked at $21,804 in the museum’s first year.

“I don’t think it was ever envisioned as being self-sustaining, but I don’t think they (Society officials) anticipated it would be a drain,” Past President Jim Pauly said.

Not only did the Exploreum not attract the visitors the Society envisioned, it wasn’t used as a rental space as often as expected, officials said.

The building was originally listed for $1.5 million, but the price was later dropped to $999,999.

In August, Society officials said they had reached an agreement to sell the building to Schwalbe, who planned to use it as an event venue.

More recently, Mequon developer Cindy Shaffer said she was interested in acquiring the Exploreum building as part of her proposed Ozaukee Square development.



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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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