Port Harbor Center owners plan park where grocery once stood

Parking lot concept scrapped in favor of grassy area where they say public is welcome to enjoy lakefront

THE RECENT DEMOLITION of the north end of the Port Harbor Center has cleared the way for what the property owners say will be a lakefront park open to the public. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Instead of a parking lot with amenities such as a bocce court, rain garden and picnic area, the former grocery store space at the Port Harbor Center will be turned into a grassy area for the public to enjoy, the shopping center owners said last week.

Jim Vollmar and Don Voigt, who with their wives own the strip mall, told the Port Washington Plan Commission last week they changed their plans for the parcel after receiving several bids for the work.

Voigt said the bids to remove the slab and convert the area into a parking lot were $40,000 to $50,000, prompting the partners to question that plan.

“When we looked at the future of this site, we are eventually going to build condos here,” he said.

Spending that kind of money on a parking lot just to tear it up again in a few years to build housing didn’t seem like the economical thing to do, Voigt said.

“It would be like throwing good money after bad,” Vollmar said.

Instead, the partners will seed the lot with grass and create an attractive north wall to the rest of the shopping center, he said.

“Hopefully we’ll have really green grass there by Fish Day,” Voigt told the commission.

The men plan to plant flowers and shrubs along the base of the wall, which will be patched, cleaned and painted. 

A horizontal exposed beam that they believe is structural can’t be removed, so the men said they are using it to help create a trellis for some of their plantings.

The plan drew compliments from the commission.

“I think it turned out really nice,” Ald. Mike Ehrlich, a member of the commission, said. “You can’t do much with the structural beam.”

Voigt said Tuesday the area will be open to the public.

“We have a vision for Port Washington, and that’s of a friendly place,” he said, adding the park-like setting may remain for several years.

The former grocery store, which had been vacant for decades, had long drawn complaints from residents. But late last year, the owners unveiled plans to convert the building into a 10-unit condominium development — a plan that drew compliments from the city.

But they abruptly shelved those plans earlier this year, saying they wanted to wait until the proposed Blues Factory is built on the north marina slip parking lot next to the shopping center. That prompted the city to issue a repair or raze order for the former market, which was torn down this spring.

Voigt said the owners still intend to build housing on the lot, although the timeline remains uncertain.

“It might be a couple years before something gets resolved on the north slip area,” he said.

The Plan Commission was also expected to review plans for a kayak rental kiosk near the city’s water filtration plant, but City Administrator Mark Grams said that concept is being reconsidered by Sherper’s.

Sherper’s, an outdoor clothing and equipment store that plans to open a retail shop in the Harbour Lights building at the corner of Main and Franklin streets, is looking at other locations because of issues with the site next to the water utility.


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Ozaukee Press

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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