Quest for Transparency—Hamachek-Klockner Property
Yesterday I woke up to a snow-covered landscape outside my bedroom window, which means that winter has arrived in Kewaunee—no matter what the calendar says. Another sign of winter is this weekend’s Christkindlmarkt. My Christmas lights are already hidden in our bushes, just waiting for the right moment to be turned on. That moment will be tonight. With a Christmas parade and Christkindlmarkt, we have decided to turn on our lights in solidarity.
The holiday season is busy enough. But now that we have divided the council into several working committees, I am super busy—and I love being busy. It’s also budget season. There are open meetings happening all the time at City Hall. If you would like to know what is happening in Kewaunee, grab some popcorn and show up for one of our meetings—they can be quite engaging! If you wish to add to the conversation, come to our City Council meetings and speak on any topic for up to 3 minutes. We are here to listen.
Last week many people came to ask about the Hamachek-Klockner property. That’s the grass and parking area across the street from Lakehaven Hall (where the Christkindlmarkt will take place). This property now serves as overflow parking for Lakehaven events. The property stretches from Main Street on the west to the water utility building near the foot of the lighthouse pier. And it’s bordered on the north by the harbor path, and on the south by Ellis Street. For those who are not familiar or would like a reminder of what this property looked like before demolition, Google Maps satellite photos have the old property to view. When this piece of land is redeveloped, it will have wonderful views of our lake, river, harbor and lighthouse. And it likely will play a big part in revitalizing the downtown area, given the right developer.
Over the years, a few people have proposed different developments here. One proposal is for a spa/hotel with several facilities attached to it—an event center, dining facility, and vacation condominiums to name a few. And there may be other proposals to come. We are eager to have the property improved in such a way that adds value to our city and makes best use of this unique location with its proximity to Lakehaven and the harbor, and of course its world class views. If you are interested in the progress of this development, it will be on the January 9, 2023 Council agenda, where financial updates for this project will be presented and discussed. Please come and join us!
As a member of council, I am not the person who decides what gets developed. The Council as a whole will get some say of course. The city owns the land which means the newly formed Public Property Committee would certainly have a say, as well as the Zoning Board and Planning Commission, depending on the actual proposal. I believe every committee and the Council itself is very interested in having a new structure with viable and profitable businesses as well as new residents that will help to revitalize our downtown area.
But there are a few questions I will have regarding any proposal for this land. I definitely will want to read through the entire proposal, given our new economic environment—especially the issues of sky-rocketing inflation and much higher interest rates. Documents submitted so far assume a rosier financial environment than we now have. I want this project to be successful, with a well-funded developer and a qualified business team who can ensure a successful enterprise. Our city will not be helped with another empty or under-utilized building. Success is very important.
And I would like to know who is investing in this property or business. Anyone can submit a proposal, but any financial relationship with the city, it’s employees or vendors should be known from the start. This is public land and residents have a right to know all those who stand to gain by this property’s development. In fact, the city had to recently cancel a meeting over concerns with this very issue. The citizens of Kewaunee expect our dealings to be completely transparent. I don’t believe our residents would look kindly on city regulators making money off developments they regulate.
I’ve run across many people who say “Just put a FOR SALE sign on the lot!” I wish it were that easy, but just selling the land does not guarantee development. The city of Kewaunee is awash in available land. Vacant lots and corn are about as plentiful as developed property. Investors and developers already own land in Kewaunee, and for the past decade or longer have chosen not to build. But getting back to the Hamachek-Klockner property, you just have to stand on it and look in any direction to see underdeveloped properties in our downtown area that are currently owned by people who talk a good game about development.
Another important issue to me is that any developer makes use of the unique attributes of the site being developed. For the Hamachek-Klockner property I would personally like to see a building that maximizes the views and proximity to the harbor and downtown areas. I would like assurance that the property would be developed quickly and not sit idle. And I would like to know that the developer understands this site—understands the harsh winds and snow off the lake in Kewaunee’s winter. I would like this development to enhance continuity with our lighthouse, pier, beach, harbor, Lakehaven, and downtown. There are several underutilized properties in this area, and one good, profitable development would likely beget others.
It is just crucial to Kewaunee that we get this one right.
Thanks for listening,