Port Washington – There remains a gap in the planning process for The Blues Factory development, but the decision-makers involved agree it is one that can, and will, be bridged.
The cast changed recently, after Madison-based developer Chris Long handed management of the proposal over to Port Washington developer Gertjan van den Broek.
Long has been the spearhead for the project since it first came before the city almost a year and a half ago, but referred to the plans as being “bigger than any one person.”
“After months of negotiating terms for the developer’s agreement and TIF, there remains a gap that must be bridged,” said Long. “The Blues Factory decided a change needed to be made for the project to move forward and that it was in the best interests of the project that I step aside and hand the reins to my local partner on this project.”
The decision to put van den Broek in the driver’s seat was made prior to the Sept. 6 common council meeting, when city officials were given a project update in closed session and subsequently voted to extend the deadline for negotiations.
A long-time Port resident, van den Broek is the familiar face behind the Harbour Lights project that is nearing completion elsewhere in the city.
“(Van den Broek) has a vested interest in the community to help shape the development of the marina district,” Long said. “I believe he’s the right person to work with the city to get this project across the finish line.”
Van den Broek could not be reached for comment.
The final developer’s agreement between the city of Port Washington and Long was set to be approved earlier this month.
Instead, the common council authorized City Administrator Mark Grams and City Attorney Eric Eberhardt to negotiate a reasonable extension on the offer to purchase the north marina slip parking lot for the Blues Factory complex.
Originally the deadline for a developer’s agreement was set for June, after the council agreed in May to sell the north slip parking lot to Long. It was later extended to Aug. 31 and again to Sept. 6.
“Very little has changed in our opinion,” said Mayor Tom Mlada. “The basis of the project was in line with the vision we put in place for 2013 to maximize property along the lakefront.”
The Blues Factory plans hit on every one of the city’s goals for that piece of land, which Mlada said include sparking economic activity, sustaining year-round support for businesses downtown and integrating landscaping that preserves lake access.
“None of those things have changed,” Mlada said. “The (common council) is still looking at that property as a very unique and important economic development opportunity, as an area in the city we have to do better with.”
While Mlada agreed with Long’s interpretation that negotiations weren’t going anywhere fast, he said he has faith the city can work something out with van den Broek “sooner rather than later.”
City Administrator Mark Grams could not be reached for comment regarding the extension, but Mlada said the council will likely discuss the agreement in closed session at upcoming meetings.
“Sure, with any change in leadership there is some potential for a delay, but from my perspective this process is showing we are being very diligent throughout this project,” Mlada said. “I’m confident we can close the gap and continue things in fairly short order.”
Since plans first came forward, a local group of residents has been strongly opposed to the project, which Long has called a “$4.75 million cultural and entertainment multiplex.”
Located on an area locals know as the North Slip parking lot, The Blues Factory is planned for construction on a portion of the former site of the Wisconsin Chair Co. 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 as residents are concerned about the increased need for parking while also eliminating parking spaces.
Yet city officials have cited the results of third-party studies that show there is more than ample parking downtown, and point to the importance of finding ways to embrace the industrial heritage of the waterfront district.
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.
Though Long had hoped to have The Blues Factory open in time for the Paramount Centennial celebration, van den Broek said the completion is more realistically estimated in 2018.