Port Washington – In 1982, a group of aldermen in Port Washington changed the landscape of the city forever when they voted in favor of constructing the Port Washington Marina downtown.
It was a controversial choice at the time but has turned out to be a favorable one for the area.
Now a different group of aldermen are faced with a similar decision that could also have a profound impact on the face of downtown Port Washington.
City officials say negotiations on a developer’s agreement for The Blues Factory are in their final stages despite concerns from a vocal group of residents strongly opposed to the project.
The Blues Factory Inc. is a local business group that hopes to open what President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Long calls a “$4.75 million cultural and entertainment multiplex for the 2017 centennial celebration of the remarkable story of the Wisconsin Chair Co. and its famed Paramount record label.”
Located in an area locals know as the North Slip parking lot, The Blues Factory is planned for construction on the former site of the chair factory and its subsidiary that recorded legendary blues and jazz artists.
The $250,000 land sale approved in May remains contingent on city approval of the developer’s agreement, which calls for $1 million in tax-incremental financing. The sale of public lakefront land has been met with strong opposition. It would simultaneously increase the need for parking while also eliminating parking spaces.
Yet city officials point to two separate third-party parking studies conducted in recent years that demonstrate there is more than ample parking (as much as twice as much as needed) downtown.
“It has been a very controversial issue that has gone so far as to change relationships,” said Alderman Bill Driscoll, who said he has personally lost friends in the city who are against the plans. “Unfortunately, people forget that this has all been going on for two years before anyone said a word about it.”
Plans originated through the city’s Community Development Authority, who decided it was time to put a plan in place to redevelop certain target areas throughout downtown.
“I believe that it is my job to listen to everyone and do as much research as I can on every single aspect of it and make a decision based on what’s best for the city of Port not for a few individuals who are worried about competing businesses coming in or their view of the lake being obstructed,” Driscoll said.
“I honestly believe this is going to be one of those things where 30 years from now people are going to realize this was really what was in the best interest of our city in the long term.”
The plans call for redevelopment of what is now primarily parking space into a place that commemorates the industrial heritage of the waterfront district, Mayor Tom Mlada said.
The two-story building would include Paramount Hall, a nonprofit-operated cultural preservation and education center, the Ozaukee Theatre, a live performance space and multi-use facility, The Blues Factory banquet and event space overlooking Lake Michigan, and a partner-operated lakefront restaurant and bar.
“I believe it is a very exciting endeavor for the city,” Mlada said, emphasizing the importance of bringing business to the city year-round. “We have a lot to be proud of in Port Washington, and I strongly believe this development truly is in the best interest of our city not just now, but as we move forward and continue to develop in the future.”
The common council could discuss and act on the developer’s agreement as soon as its meeting at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, at City Hall, 100 West Grand Ave.
Until then, nothing is final, though Long said the goal is to begin construction this year and open in summer of 2017 as part of The Blue’s Factory’s Paramount Centennial celebration.
“We are confident The Blues Factory will deliver exactly what the city of Port Washington had called for in this redevelopment opportunity,” Long said. “(That includes) a multi-faceted, unique, year-round attraction that will function as an economic catalyst in bringing people to the downtown, generating tax base increment and helping downtown businesses be even more successful on a year-round basis.”