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Former M&I Building's Fate Lingers in Limbo

An interested buyer hopes to follow through on plans to restore historic buildings in downtown Port Washington despite the fact that the former owner must follow through with steps to raze the structure.

It seems this broken Port Washington building just can’t get a break.

For years, the have been involved in turmoil — stuck with to develop or even repair the dilapidated buildings, a situation that and the eventual settlement of the lawsuit .

Now, local man Gertjan van den Broek of Renew Port Holdings LLC has come this close to assuming ownership of the building — with a pending offer to purchase and plans to fix the dilapidated facade — but without proper financing and very little time.

A binding agreement remains between the city and current owners Port Harbor Investments LLC, which requires a raze permit to be secured by Friday. The Port Washington Common Council actually ; originally, the buildings were set to be demolished by Dec. 28.

But just because the raze permit should be set to go doesn't mean the buildings will actually go down. Port Washington Mayor Scott Huebner said contractors generally require about 30 days to prepare for a demolition and the actual tear down deadline is Feb. 17. The next Common Council meeting is set for Feb. 7, and the council will likely take up the issue of these buildings' fate during that meeting.

"I think it's great what Renew Port Holdings is trying to do here ... but, you know, it's happened very last minute," Ald. Dan Becker, a member of the Plan Commission, said during the group's meeting on Thursday night. "We provided this extension … but I would almost argue that things have almost gotten murkier instead of clearer."

Purchase plan might have changed

That's because van den Broek's initial proposal to the Common Council in December told the group he planned to close on the purchase by Jan. 30. But at a Common Council meeting this week, city officials learned those plans might have changed.

Van den Broek, who also owns  and , was unable to attend that meeting because he is away on business, but his attorney, Bruce McIlnay, along with architect Jim Reed, spoke on his behalf.

Because of the pending lawsuit and raze order situation, McIlnay said van den Broek has been struggling to find a bank that will provide the necessary financing for him to purchase the buildings. For that reason, McIlnay proposed that van den Broek would be willing to pay to fix the facade before the next tourist season, while extending the closing date of the purchase to May so that he could ensure financing.

The closing date extension was seen as unacceptable to city officials, who are worried about this building continuing to sit in Port Harbor Investment's control with no specific plans of development.

"If anybody can do this, I believe Gertjan can do this — make this … work," Ald. Mike Ehrlich said at the council meeting on Tuesday night. "My biggest concern is having this other property owner still own the building until May. They are a wild card and I’m concerned that something would go awry and they would still own the building."

A four-year struggle

in December 2007, with plans to renovate the area into a more useful downtown structure. But Port Harbor never followed through on its promise to repair the buildings and the city filed its lawsuit in November 2008 asking that the buildings be declared a public nuisance, which meant a judge could order it repaired or razed.

City Attorney Eric Eberhardt with Port Harbor in the lawsuit against the company in February, under which the company agreed to raze the buildings at 122 N. Franklin St. between March 1 and April 15.  In return, the city would drop the suit. But the Common Council did not approve that agreement, and inevitably landed on a plan that would have the buildings either sold or razed by Dec. 28.

Another begging problem in van den Broek's acquisition of the property is that he has yet to present specific ideas about how the buildings would be used, leaving city officials worried about the risk that the buildings will continue to sit empty in van den Broek's ownership, too.

Reed suggested during Thursday's Plan Commission meeting that van den Broek might be interested in turning upper levels of the building into highly desirable apartment rentals with lake views and retail space on the first floor.

"(That type of living is) unique. It's a very popular lifestyle down in the third ward, or the fifth ward," Reed said. "You get people that love to be in rehabilitated buildings or adaptively used buildings (interested in renting)."

For now, however, Reed said the group has to take baby steps — focusing on making exterior repairs and determining a good use for the buildings so that they can be saved from demolition; razing the structures and building new would be, in his opinion, a mistake.

"Fixing the building is a viable option. I’ve been through the bulding, I’ve done a lot of historic buldings in Ozaukee County and throughout the state," Reed said. "Those buildings look perfect to me, they give the flavor (people want). ... People aren’t coming to Port to see a brand new building in downtown — most of them come here because they like to see the history."

While the decision to believe in van den Broek as a developer isn't easy considering the city's history with the property, officials are trying to come to terms with the idea.

"We've got an entrepreneurial hero here that said, 'Give me a shot ... and in the meantime I’ll fix the building,'" Ald. Joe Dean said on Tuesday. "I think we need to take a breath and work with this (developer)."

J Ludwig January 21, 2012 at 07:27 PM
"Van den Broek, who also owns Harry's Restaurant and recently purchased Java Dock, was unable to attend that meeting because he is away on business, but his attorney, Bruce McIlnay, along with architect Jim Reed, spoke on his behalf.” I am unable to verify that Mr. Reed is an architect with a valid State of Wisconsin architect license. The only listing expired listing is for license number 6898-5, Architect REED, JAMES W., KNOXVILLE, TN issued 08/16/1990, expired 07/31/2000. I am sorry that the M&I building continues to have problems. It is small wonder when apparently unqualified persons get involved.
Lyssa Beyer (Editor) January 22, 2012 at 06:59 PM
I don't know much about Jim Reeds credentials, other than he is recognized for work on several historical buildings in the state, including the Grafton Hotel.
Terry January 27, 2012 at 01:32 AM
When it comes to old things with "character", there are two types; Old junk lying around waiting to be recycled and antiques worthy of being restored and displayed. My personal belief is that this building is more of the old junk type and it's time to trash it. But if someone wants to try to restore it instead fine with me. Either way, it needs to be done quickly. If this restoration can't be at least begun in the near future, time to demolish the building.
Nick Morrell February 03, 2012 at 05:56 PM
Tearing the building down, would leave an open space that would not be filled for years. Frankly the council should have simply fixed it up, including the facade and interior and sent the bill to the owners. Give the building to mr Van Der Broek, and let him restore it. this is something that should have been done once the owners failed to follow through with their plans and left it a eyesore about 4 years ago.

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