PORT WASHINGTON - The answer to whether or not the city can take control of the landmark lighthouse on Lake Michigan may be coming soon.
Mayor Tom Mlada said based on phone conversations, “the outcome is certain” and conveyance is expected within the next four months. This timeframe would allow for pre-winter repair work to be done.
Mlada made a presentation to the common council May 16 regarding where the lighthouse project was in terms of when and if the city would take control.
The lighthouse was previously owned by the Coast Guard and was scheduled for divestment in 2016. An opportunity for individuals, municipalities or organizations to apply to take over the lighthouse was open until Christmas 2015 and the city put in its bid.
Mlada said a scoring system is used to determine which applicant gets it. He said that decision is coming “relatively soon.”
If the city does take over control of the lighthouse, there are a number of stipulations that must be followed — such as allowing the Coast Guard to man the light.
Mlada said the lighthouse is “truly a community icon, a part of maritime past, and a treasured historical and cultural asset.” He said the uniqueness of it is one of the differentiators for Port Washington with its design even being incorporated into the city’s branding with its logo.
Not just a visual representation of Port Washington, the lighthouse also has an economic benefit, Mlada said. He said the lighthouse draws people to Main Street and to those businesses.
“We really do enjoy a whole lot of marketing value by the mere existence of the structure,” Mlada said.
Crafting the application
In 2015, the city held a public information meeting, connecting not only with local residents but with state and federal officials. The city also conducted a survey which said more than 90 percent of residents wanted to maintain local control over the lighthouse.
Following that, the city established a North Breakwater Lighthouse Preservation Team of about 30 staff members, partners and residents. A group of six to eight worked to craft the application, which took “hundreds of man hours,” Mlada said.
The final application was submitted in January 2016. Tentative approval came in early March with a few more requirements requested by the application’s review team for clarifications and documents. The city resubmitted it in April 2016.
A letter from the Secretary of the Interior arrived in July, which conveyed excitement about a community being committed to preserving its asset.
Mlada said at this point all materials have been submitted and received. A final review of the development management plan and outlot agreement will begin soon with the consideration period set to last one to two months.
While waiting for the final approval, the city is completing background work in preparation and making a few investments.
Mlada said the city submitted paperwork to the national register of historic places to get the lighthouse listed last April, which cost $1,800. Additionally, a preservation plan development draft is expected in June. That plan is estimated to cost $18,000. Businesses on Main Street have also committed financial resources for exterior lighting.
“We’re making significant progress here,” Mlada said.
Future investments are estimated to total about $30,000. Those costs would mostly fall to repairs needed to make the lighthouse weather tight, do some interior cleanup, repair the port hole window, fix some small holes in the steel roof, repair the ladder, and clean up and paint the concrete base, which had some graffiti issues.
In the long-term, the city is looking at painting the exterior of the lighthouse, which has been estimated to cost between $500,000 and $1 million. On the less expensive end, it’s expected the paint would last around 20 years while the more expensive option would be closer to a 50-year solution.
The last time the lighthouse was painted was about 30 years ago, Mlada said.
Show me the money
In his presentation, Mlada discussed ways the city would raise money for the projects. He said initial fundraising was met with success such as a lighthouse ornament, which raised $14,000, and other ideas such as a lighthouse ice cream flavor or a lighthouse chocolate bar.
Additionally, the city was gifted two 3D models of the lighthouse which are planned to be displayed at various locations as a donation kiosk. Mlada said one would rotate between the library and city business partners while the other would likely be placed at the breakwater gateway entrance.
Mlada said he is open to “broader community ideas” for fundraising.
Gift-match opportunities with Friends of Port Parks and Rec are available, as well.
“In short, while we fund short-term repairs, funding for significant longer-term commitments is currently an unknown,” Mlada said. “This is going to be something the community embraces as a responsibility for years to come.”
The ultimate goal discussed at the meeting is to make the entire breakwater ADA compliant to allow access to the lighthouse by the public.
"The first place people visit is the lakefront for the lighthouse,” Mlada said. “It’s also the last place when they leave.”
Alderman John Sigwart expressed some concerns about the public having full access to the lighthouse. Mlada clarified, saying all public access would be guided in some way; it would not just be freely open to enter.
Alderman Doug Biggs said the whole project is a balance of scope and numbers.
“We just want to make sure everyone understands these meetings build on each other,” he said.
He said he hopes citizens will keep engaged and tell the city what their priorities really are.