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Historical Shocker: No Bids on Fire House

Historical society still will fight to save the old engine house, while the city likely still will seek a sale.

The controversial sale of a city-owned historic fire engine house is at a stalemate, as zero bids came in by Wednesday's deadline.

That unexpected development left Port Washington Historical Society members agape with disbelief.

City officials gave every impression that "there were people very interested" in buying the historic fire station, said Nancy Haacke, a Port resident and historical society member.

Haacke and several others waited at on Wednesday for the opening of the bids, only to be "shocked" that there was nothing to open.

"Can you imagine … we were sitting there, there were like six of us and (City Administrator Mark Grams) came in and we were waiting for the opening and ... he said, 'There are no bids,'" Haacke said.

"We were just shocked," she said. "It was like going swimming and (finding out) there's just no water."

Haacke is part of a movement circulating petitions to keep the fire engine building in city hands and available for the historical society's use. The firehouse  the . The building earned state and national recognition as an historical site in 2009.

A door-to-door petition campaign so far has generated nearly 500 signatures in support of the city retaining ownership of the old firehouse and leasing it to the historical society, Haacke said. 

Based on comments she has heard while collecting signatures, Haacke said, that representative community sample would translate into 80 percent of residents supporting the historical society's bid to lease and help maintain the building -- even when told about costs associated with the move.

Members of the historical society, including President Jackie Oleson, attended the showing how the organization could maintain and help fund upkeep of the old firehouse.

"We feel it has taken us to this point in time to meet the requests of the city," Oleson said at the meeting. "I do ask that you take a look at what we’ve been proposing. Over the years, we have lost numerous historic buildings in Port Washington."

Although the historical society's plan allots money for some of the necessary repairs and bills associated with the building, it also would lock the city in at a $1-per-year lease to the society — something the city cannot afford.

The city is banking on the $230,000 sale of the building in order to pay for upgrades to the new senior center location. Grams said there are no other buildings in city ownership that could be sold to make up for that missing money.

Grams said he will present the council with options on how to proceed at the Common Council meeting on Tuesday.

"It’s my recommendation to still proceed with selling the building," he said.

Grams outlined two options for the city to pursue in its attempt to sell the building: recruit a real estate agent to market the building, and contact those who expressed interest in the building but failed to submit a bid to learn if they and the city could negotiate a deal.

Historical society members will be at the next council meeting, and have no intention of giving up their fight to keep the fire house in city hands, Haacke said. 

"It doesn’t change our plans of what we wanted," she said. "It just shocks us that they gave us the idea that we had to fight other people — and we didn't."

Barbara Bates-Nelson July 29, 2011 at 11:39 AM
The Historical Society has a track record of being good stewards and caretakers for the historic buildings in town. All you have to do is look at the Light Station to see how they have helped to transform the light station and the neighborhood. Thanks to the hard work and generous donations from the community, the building went from an eyesore to a beautiful museum that attracts tourists from all over the world. I know that they will take the same care with preserving the historic firehouse. I agree with so many of the local Port Washington residents, Don't let this valuable Port Washington treasure being sold. B2N

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