Developer has eye on Port City Hall and more

Mequon firm wants to buy city building for 2-block project that would encompass county buildings

THE FACE OF Grand Avenue from Wisconsin Street, where Port Washington City Hall is located (right), to Milwaukee Street, where Family Promise has its offices (far left) could be changed if a plan by Shaffer Development is approved. The company has proposed a multi-use development that would combine housing and commercial spaces. Photo by Bill Schanen IV
Ozaukee Press staff

A Mequon developer has proposed buying Port Washington City Hall as well as much of the property around it to create Ozaukee Square, a project that would transform two blocks near the heart of downtown and encompass the Ozaukee County Historic Courthouse and Administration Center.

Cindy Shaffer, who owns Shaffer Development, said Wednesday she wants to redevelop all the properties along the 100 block of West Grand Avenue between Wisconsin and Milwaukee streets, as well as properties between those two streets north of the county buildings.

In their place, she said, she would like to create a mix of housing, commercial spaces and indoor parking for public and private use as well as a public square that could be used for a variety of uses, everything from musical performances to lawn bowling to markets and an ice skating rink.

Shaffer stressed that her plans are still under development, noting she has been meeting with officials to gauge their interest and seek their input into the plans.

She will hold three public meetings to obtain input from city residents beginning this weekend.

“I really need the city’s support,” Shaffer said, not just officials but residents as well, adding she will tweak her plans based on their input. “This is all conceptual. It’s going to change.

“I think this will be good for Port. But if people don’t want it, I won’t do it.”

Shaffer — who developed the Mequon Town Center, Spur 16, Mequon Public Market and Grafton’s 1505 Apartments — said she came up with the concept for the project while leaving City Hall, where she talked to officials about another project she is planning — The Farm, an agricultural neighborhood development on Sunset Road.

If approved, Shaffer said she would undertake both Ozaukee Square and The Farm concurrently.

City officials reached Tuesday about the project stressed that the plans are preliminary and need to be fleshed out.

Ald. John Sigwart, who said aldermen met with Shaffer in pairs on Monday, said the project is “pretty all encompassing. It’s a very, very, very interesting project in many respects. It’s really potentially good for the community. It involved a lot of change.

“It may be too large for some people to swallow.”

Ald. Dan Benning said he particularly likes the development’s emphasis on housing for workers, and the fact it would open up more commercial space.

“Downtown’s full,” he said. “I think there’s an opportunity for some more storefronts. And we need more housing.

“We’ll see what she comes back with. On one hand, I’m hopeful. On the other, I’m waiting to see something in writing.”

Ald. Paul Neumyer concurred, especially about the housing aspect of the proposal.

“I think that’s important,” he said. “If you look at any urban place around us, they have residential uses downtown. You need that for a city to prosper.”

Ald. Jonathan Pleitner said he wants to hear more about the proposal both from the developer and the public.

“Let’s just start the conversation,” he said, noting that recent developments have created a vibrant downtown that’s now attracting more people.

But, he added, he wants to make sure whatever happens fits in with and doesn’t detract from the historic parts of the community.

“I think we can have one foot in the past while moving to a future where we’re strong and thriving,” Pleitner said. “This is an impactful part of the city.”

Mayor Ted Neitzke said he is “skeptically optimistic,” noting the city has seen many plans proposed but never come to fruition.

But, he said, he’s happy to see housing be part of the plan.

“I look forward to seeing what it (Shaffer’s plan) is,” he said. “It’s a matter of if what she brings forward fits, if it fits in our strategic plan and if it works for us.” 

Shaffer’s plans would require acquiring City Hall, either through a purchase or land swap, something she is talking to city officials about.

A new City Hall could be accommodated in the development, perhaps with a new library or other city offices, with residences above them, Shaffer said.

Along Grand Avenue, Shaffer said, she hopes to construct a building that would have commercial shops on the first floor with three floors of residential housing  above it. Parking may also be incorporated into the building, she said.

The housing is planned to be affordable for workers, Shaffer said.

“No one can find workers,” she said. “With this, people could live there and walk to work.”

Shaffer said she has reached an agreement to purchase Old Theatre Square — perhaps best known as the home of Java Dock coffeehouse — from Gertjan van den Broek and hopes to keep as many of the building tenants as possible in the development.

She has also made an offer to purchase the Port Exploreum building from the Port Washington Historical Society. If it’s accepted, Shaffer said, some of the Grand Avenue tenants could move there while her development is constructed.

Shaffer said she also has a commitment to purchase the Family Promise building at the corner of Grand Avenue and Milwaukee Street and will accommodate the agency in her development.

To the north, Ozaukee County would retain its buildings, but Shaffer is looking to purchase its downtown parking lots.

The northern parking lot would become home to the public spaces, which would be ringed with housing and commercial developments — perhaps including a market — along the hillside, allowing these buildings to blend in. Indoor parking would also be incorporated both for the building tenants and the public.

A tower is incorporated into the plan, but Shaffer said that depending on the community response this could be omitted from the plans.

“It will not make or break the project,” she said. “It is more important to me that this fits in with the community.”

The amount of parking would meet or exceed the number of surface parking spaces there are in the area today, Shaffer said.

“I know parking is a big issue in Port,” she said. 

Shaffer said she plans to retain all the historic structures along Wisconsin Street.

The development would include a significant amount of housing. Shaffer said she hasn’t determined the number of units, saying it will depend on the size and mix.

Shaffer said she plans to apply for tax credits for the development and will need a pay-as-you-go tax incremental development for the project.

Although TIF projects have been controversial in the city, Shaffer noted that much of the land in her proposed development is publicly owned and currently off the tax rolls.

Shaffer said she plans to formally appear before the Common Council for a pre-concept meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 20, then go to the Plan Commission for its input on Thursday, Oct. 20.

If all goes well, she said, she would look to get all her approvals by April and start work in June.  

Shaffer will meet the public at three outreach meetings in the next week. The first will be from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, at the Ozaukee County parking lot on Main Street, where Shaffer will be in an Airstream trailer.

The other meetings, which will be in the conference room at Old Theatre Square, 116 W Grand Ave., will be from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 5, and 2 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 6.


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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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